Like the punt return for a touchdown just over two months before it, Lynn Bowden called his shot on Tuesday.
The Kentucky sophomore told fellow wide receivers Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps on the sideline that he was going to take a punt return back for a score in the VRBO Citrus Bowl, and then he did it.
The Cats’ regular punt returner, David Bouvier, approached Bowden and suggested that any time he wanted to go out there and field a punt, he could.
“I am now two-for-two in calling it,” Bowden said. “That’s what I did. I got out there and saw the blocks, and that’s what happened.”
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His 58-yard punt return gave Kentucky a 10-0 lead on Penn State late in the first quarter. It was reminiscent of the game-changing punt return for a score he had at Missouri earlier this season.
Once Bowden realized that there were clean blocks in front of him and he had a little room, he took off.
“I put a move on a couple guys because I knew I was faster and just outran them,” the sophomore said.
Bowden is a game changer and it showed in his punt return for a score and his five catches for 84 yards, UK’s Mark Stoops said.
The sophomore finished the game with 173 all-purpose yards in the Citrus Bowl against Penn State.
“He really does a great job,” the Cats’ coach said. “He made some very creative plays today. He’s good with the ball in his hands. We need to do a better job of making sure we find ways to get him the ball. And he’s definitely got some big-play ability.”
The locker room after the game was special, Bowden said.
“It was a great feeling, like Christmas came around again,” he said. “It was a great feeling and we were like a bunch of kids.”
’I’ve never won a lot’
The Kentucky defense loses nearly all of its starters from this season’s team, but one of the few returning was emotional after the win.
When Kash Daniel, who had eight tackles in the victory, was asked about lifting the Citrus Bowl trophy, he said: “It was heavy.”
And then things got a little heavy for the junior linebacker.
“I looked down and I saw ‘champions’ on it,” he said. “I’ve never won a lot when I played. Whether it’s baseball, basketball or football, I’ve never been on a championship team and I’ve always seen people celebrating and I’ve always heard about what they felt and I see their rings and how it says champions on it. And for that to happen, I can’t put it into words.”
Daniel also was happy to see some of his fellow returning defensive players making big plays in the bowl game, including fellow middle linebacker DeAndre Square.
The true freshman started the game in place of senior Jordan Jones, who was suspended for the game after an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Square was third on the team in tackles with six, including a quarterback sack.
“DeAndre played a hell of a game and Chris had a hell of a game, too,” he said of Chris Oats, another true freshman linebacker, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery.
“Just shows how hungry those young guys are. It’s not just in our linebacker room, too. It’s from the defense, it’s from the special teams and the offense. The young guys are hungry.”
Playing with a purpose
The week in Orlando couldn’t be all work and no play for Kentucky.
And Stoops said his goal was to give his mature, veteran team some space to enjoy itself.
“We had so much fun, it ought to be illegal how much fun we had this week,” the Cats’ coach said. “We had a blast just being with each other and just spending time and enjoying it and taking it in.
“But then when it was time to go to meeting, time to go to practice, these guys were locked in, they were competitive. And you could do that with a mature group of guys that have been around for a while and we really went out and had energized practices and we were determined to get this victory.”
Players including Allen and Snell both used words like “brotherhood” to describe the team with so many seniors and veterans.
And having so much to overcome off the field this season, including the cancer diagnosis for defensive lineman Josh Paschal and offensive line coach John Schlarman as well as the tragic death of a young fan, unified the team even more.
“This team and the adversity that we faced, as well as to overcome, you know, the negative things that happened with the team — we were able to make that a positive and it gave us drive,” Snell said, adding that “things like that, those gave us the extra fight, you know, throughout the season, like, we got something to play for.”