By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The fun is over and Kentucky is ready to get down to business.
“At this point, you start getting a little anxious (and) you’re ready to go play the game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said here Monday.
Kentucky has circled the Charlotte Motor Speedway, toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame and visited the Harvest Food Bank since arriving in Charlotte last week. The players and coaches are ready to put the finishing touches on a roller-coaster season that culminates with a first-ever Belk Bowl appearance against Virginia Tech in a New Year’s Eve kickoff set for noon.
“It’s another regular-season game,” Kentucky senior offensive lineman Logan Stenberg said. “We’re going out there, get an eighth win and that’s what we came here to do — we came here to win and we’re excited to be here at the Belk Bowl. All the activities are fun, but it’s a business trip and we’re ready to tee it up tomorrow.”
Much like Stenberg, Lynn Bowden is set for his finale in a Kentucky uniform. Bowden, declared for the NFL Draft earlier this month but committed to playing for the Wildcats in Charlotte.
“I’m just ready to play the game,” said the Kentucky junior receiver-quarterback. “It’s definitely a business trip. It has been a business trip since two days ago. We’re just going to show the heart that we’ve (had) the whole season. We’re going to play our game.”
Stoops wants his squad “to enjoy themselves” throughout the entire process and added, “the most memorable experience will be at the end of the game.”
“You either win or lose and I know it’s a lot more fun when you’re going to look back on this bowl experience and have a lot better feeling about it if you win the game,” he said. “You have to always keep that in mind.”
After inserting Bowden at quarterback, the Wildcats (7-5) won four of their last five games, including three in a row to end the regular season. Stoops said the Wildcats are glad Bowden will be taking snaps against the Hokies.
“I don’t think anybody will ever forget for a long, long time the way he has played, the way he has laid it on the line for teammates and this program,” the Kentucky coach said. “We’re grateful for Lynn and for what he has done, what he has meant to us and how hard he has played. I know he’s getting to that point (to play again) … just being around him the last day or two. I can see it in his eye, he’s ready to go and he’s ready to get this game going.”
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said Bowden’s accomplishments deserved more attention, especially nationally.
“I think he’s pretty special,” he said. “I think he’s underrated on a national scale. I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit for the job that he has done moving from wideout to quarterback. They’re not just snapping the ball and having him run up the middle. He is running an offense and that’s really hard to do. … he is a really special dynamic player. I don’t know the young man, but my perception of him is that he’s incredibly competitive and he’s playing in this game. My impression is that he wants the ball a lot. We’’ll certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Virginia Tech’s players agreed, including safety Reggie Floyd.
“He’s a very physical quarterback and the most physical quarterback that I have seen,” Floyd said. “Usually you don’t have a quarterback who likes contact like that and it looks like he approves of it and looks for it sometimes and that’s the main thing that caught my eye. … He wants everything and I like that about him. I’m looking forward to the competition with him and his team and me and my team.”
Like Stoops and the Wildcats, Virginia Tech (8-4) is finished with fun and games and ready to settle matters on the field.
“I have a feeling yards and points may be hard to come by in this game,” he said. “I’ve watched both teams and both teams are anxious to play. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those bowl games to where two teams will be out there sleepwalking through the game. I think it’s going to be a physical, hard-nosed, tough ballgame. It may come down to one play here or there.”
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Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech Noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.