In Kentucky’s 17-10 win over South Carolina last season, Boom Williams lowered the boom. The speedy running back rushed for 123 yards on just 15 carries. He zoomed up the middle on a 21-yard run. He darted around left end for a 43-yard touchdown.
When Williams combined with freshman running mate Benny Snell (16 carries for 73 yards) to help take down the visiting Gamecocks, it wasn’t the first time, nor the last, Boom’s big-play ability helped turn the tide toward the Cats before the Georgia native decided to skip his senior season and take a shot at the pros.
Through the first two games of 2017, however, Kentucky’s offense has missed those sort of lightning strikes, the sudden scores, whether it be Williams on the ground or wide receiver Jeff Badet, now blowing past defenders as a graduate transfer at Oklahoma, through the air.
Heading into UK’s Southeastern Conference opener Saturday at South Carolina, the Cats could use a playmaker.
Which brings us to Lynn Bowden, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound true freshman wideout from Youngstown, Ohio, who was UK’s most heralded recruit heading into this season. By all prep scout accounts, Bowden owned playmaking ability and then some.
It hasn’t translated yet, however. Finishing up his academic responsibilities, Bowden missed the on-campus summer workouts. And UK was a week into fall practice before Bowden was cleared to participate by the NCAA. While head coach Mark Stoops praised Bowden’s practice performances, he cautioned that the wideout needed time to catch up to his teammates in mastering the playbook.
In the season opener at Southern Miss, Bowden’s opportunities were rare. So rare, in fact, the freshman took to Twitter after the game to air his displeasure. Soon, the tweets were deleted, however. Stoops cited UK’s mere 55 plays from scrimmage. Bowden issued an “all’s good” missive. And everybody moved on.
In last week’s home opener, Bowden finally touched the ball, returning a pair of kickoffs. Then barely midway through the first quarter the wide receiver was ejected from the game when his peel-back block on quarterback Stephen Johnson’s 22-yard scramble was deemed as targeting for helmet-to-helmet contact.
“It was nothing malicious,” said Stoops after the Cats’ 27-16 win over Eastern Kentucky. “He really tried to make a good block. … It wasn’t a brutal hit or anything like that. But if you make any contact with head-to-head, they’re going to call that on an unprotected player.”
Given his star-crossed start, Bowden is surely champing at the bit for an opportunity to make an impact. And Stoops, along with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, might be inclined to provide it to him.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated after that last incident here, but his time will come,” Stoops said on Monday. “It’s about continuing to have great practices. He had a better week last week. He was ready to go. Sooner or later, he’s going to get those opportunities and you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Could that opportunity come Saturday? Perhaps. After all, it was game three last year when true freshman Snell bulldozed his way onto the scene, rushing for 136 yards and scoring four touchdowns in Kentucky’s win over New Mexico State. By season’s end, Snell owned the school’s rookie rushing record with 1,091 yards.
Judging by social media, Bowden is aching to make a similar impact, though he’s adopted a more team-friendly approach. After his ejection Saturday, Bowden tweeted from the locker room, “My guys got this watch then from the inside.”
“I need to get a little better hold of that,” said Stoops, shaking his head, when asked Monday about Bowden’s active Twitter account.
Bowden probably feels his college career has been put on hold. At least its start. Surely he’s anxious to prove the hype. Saturday night at South Carolina would be just the time to start.
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