CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It’s rare when a team starts a quarterback in a bowl game with more yards rushing, receiving, and returning than he has passing.
But that’s exactly what Kentucky will do when Lynn Bowden Jr. leads the Wildcats against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday.
The versatile junior made the transition from wide receiver/returner to quarterback five games into the Wildcats season and the team hasn’t looked back since. Kentucky finished 7-5 and earned its fourth straight bowl appearance.
Bowden said he suggested the idea to Wildcats coach Mark Stoops earlier in the year.
“We were just trying something out,” Bowden said. “I just put it in (the coaches’) ear. The South Carolina game in the last drive, we went down and scored in five plays.”
Stoops said he had some apprehensions at first, but said after thinking it through he felt the move gave his team the best chance to win.
“I don’t think you normally see that,” Stoops said. “That was a pretty drastic switch but something that was necessary for us. It speaks a lot for (offensive coach) Eddie Gran and (co-offensive coordinator) Darin Hinshaw and all of our offensive staff for putting those guys in the right places.”
Bowden has amassed 1,297 yards rushing, 1,303 yards receiving, 1,807 yards on returns. He’s thrown for just 422 yards.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente called the 2016 runner-up to being Mr. Football Ohio a “dynamic competitor.”
“I don’t know if he’s gotten enough credit on the national level for the transition from receiver to quarterback,” Fuente said. “And he’s running the show and if you are half a man out of your gap, he can score. Not just five yards, not just make a first down but he can take it to the house.”
Some other things to know about the Kentucky-Virginia Tech Belk Bowl matchup:
FOSTER’S FINAL GAME
This will be the final game for Bud Foster, who has spent the past 33 seasons as Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator. The Hokies are 230-93 since Foster took over as defensive coordinator in 1995. “He means so much to the program,” said Virginia Tech linebacker Rayshard Ashby.
“He was here when Virginia Tech got up and started and he helped start it up with a bunch of other coaches and players. We’ll be losing more than just a great coach but a great person off the field and mentor and just a great man.”
PROUD BOWL HISTORY
The Hokies are playing in their 27th straight bowl game, the longest streak in the country. While they are just 13-19 all-time during that span, they do have a successful history in the Belk Bowl. In 2016, the Hokies rallied from a 24-point deficit to beat Arkansas 35-24 behind a 24-point third quarter. Virginia Tech’s bowl streak seemed midway though the season, but Ashby said “we never really thought about the bowl streak. We just knew we could win but we had to get back to being the team that we could be.”
WILDCATS RUN ORIENTED
Fuente knows the Wildcats won’t be throwing the ball much against them with Bowden at quarterback. But he also knows the Wildcats have nine games this season with at least 400 yards rushing and are difficult to stop, even with being mostly a one-dimensional team.
“Essentially, they lined up and threw the ball two times against Louisville,” Fuente said. “One was a bubble and one was a flea flicker. And they totally dominated the football game.”
HOKIES’ TOP WEAPON
The Hokies have their own versatile QB in Hendon Hooker, who threw for 1,445 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 306 yards and five touchdowns this season for the Hokies. He took over as Virginia Tech’s QB after the team started 2-2.
HOKIES ARE YOUNG
Virginia Tech is tied with Texas A&M for the fewest seniors in the FBS with five.
Belk Bowl Preview Capsule
By The Associated Press
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs Kentucky (7-5), Dec. 31, noon Eastern (ESPN)
Line: Virginia Tech by 3.
Series record: Kentucky leads series 11-8.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
This is Virginia Tech’s 27th straight bowl game. The Hokies will be looking for their first bowl win since 2016. Kentucky is looking for back-to-back bowl wins after beating Penn State last year in the Citrus Bowl.
Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker vs. Kentucky pass defense: Hooker leads the Hokies offense with 1,445 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes, but will face a stiff test against the Wildcats pass defense that ranks fourth in the country. Hooker replaced Ryan Willis as the Hokies starting QB after a 2-2 start. … The Hokies may need to rely more heavily on the running game led by Deshawn McClease, who has run for 717 yards and six touchdowns.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Virginia Tech: WR Damon Hazelton Jr. possesses good speed on the outside and is the team’s leading receiver with 30 catches for 506 yards and seven touchdowns.
Kentucky: QB Lynn Bowden Jr. is the Wildcats’ go-to guy on offense. He started the year as a wide receiver, but moved to quarterback. He leads the team with 1,235 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns and is also first with 30 catches for 348 yards and a touchdown.
FACTS & FIGURES: This is the final year of the Belk Bowl. The game is looking for a new title sponsor. … Virginia Tech is making its second appearance in the Belk Bowl. The Hokies defeated Arkansas 35-24 in 2016 after falling behind 24-0 at halftime. It stands as the largest comeback in school history. … The Hokies allowed Virginia QB Bryce Perkins to rack up 475 yards of offense in their final regular season. … Kentucky will be making its first appearance in the Belk Bowl and in Charlotte overall. … The Wildcats won three straight games, and four of their last five, to end the regular season. … Kentucky has completed only three passes for 21 yards over its past two games. … Kentucky is averaging 274.8 yards rushing per game, while the Hokies are allowing just 123.4 rushing yards per game. … Kentucky DE Calvin Taylor has a team-leading 7 1/2 sacks. … Kentucky won the last matchup 14-7 on Oct. 31, 1987.
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