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Opponent Offense Preview: Kentucky

An Experiment in Improvisation

Tennessee v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This year has not gone as planned for Kentucky. Four games into the season, they lost their QB1 and QB2. Enter Lynn Bowden Jr, a preseason Fred Biletnikoff Watch list nominee and Second Team All SEC Wide Receiver.

Bowden has started four games at Quarterback for Kentucky, and the results are intriguing but not necessarily effective.

You could say the Wildcats turned to the wildcat.

It’s more like a spread option offense, both read and traditional. The idea is to take the best player on your team, put him in a position to count the number of defenders in the box and decide if he should run it or throw it. Usually it’s run. Then he reads the defensive end to determine whether to give the ball or keep it.

In the traditional option which they run out of the pistol formation, Bowden reads the first defender he encounters and decides whether to keep or pitch.

These plays typically don’t go for long runs and explosive plays. They are grind it out five yards per carry. And when the field shrinks, it becomes increasingly harder to gain yards. DBs creep up not fearing a pass more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Windows for passing get smaller, and the defense can swarm to the ball.

They are 122 in Red Zone offense. They have only 27 attempts inside the 20 yard line with 12 rushing TD’s and four passing. Not good!

Kentucky averages 22 points per game and 352 yards per game. They have 376 rushing attempts to 216 passing- and 172 of those came in the first four games.

In the first game he started, Bowden led Kentucky to a win over Arkansas, but since has lost two of the next three.

In the most recent loss, at home to Tennessee, Kentucky attempted only seven passes (seven!), completing four while another went for a pick.

They did run the ball 64 times. So if anyone is wondering would a primarily running attack work in the SEC, the answer is most likely “no.”

For Bowden’s efforts, he has run the ball 101 times for just over 700 yards. He gets seven yards per carry. That’s very impressive, but the inability to effectively throw the ball means that defenses don’t have to fear anything over the top.

He’s thrown for just 213 yards on 43 attempts. Against Tennessee he threw for only 25 yards.

Stoops told the Courier Journal the offense is “not explosive” and very “one-dimensional.”

But, Bowden is still the best chance for Kentucky to win if their QB1 is not healthy and ready to play. Against Tennessee, a game they lost by four, the Wildcats had the ball inside the ten three times with a chance to win.

Margins are small in the SEC, and if Bowden scores at the end of the game, then he is one of the better national stories and Stoops is a pragmatist who just finds a way to win.

What’s most fascinating about this offense is the reflection it has on Vanderbilt’s own QB situation. What to do when traditional quarterbacks are hurt (or ineffective)? The most apparent answer is not also the one that yields great results.

Putting your best athlete at QB was a lot of fun on EA’s NCAA Football, and it works in almost every high school program. But it’s not a great way to be a potent, or even average offense, in the SEC.

Still, good for Lynn Bowden Jr. He’s a junior looking to make money at the next level as a WR. He is better than most in the Power 5, and considered by some media outlets as one of the four best WR’s in the conference. In a completely selfless action, he is doing what is best for his team. That’s incredible character.