The University of Kentucky football team early this week has focused on itself rather than Arkansas, whom it won’t face until next Saturday.
Game planning for the Razorbacks will come in due time. Much of the chatter surrounding that plan will focus on who’s under center when the lights go on at Kroger Field.
Sawyer Smith, UK’s starter at quarterback in the three games since Terry Wilson’s season-ending knee injury, is dealing with two injuries to his throwing arm (wrist, shoulder) and an undisclosed ailment that head coach Mark Stoops mentioned Monday during his weekly radio show. Smith hasn’t thrown but has been at practice this week, serving in an advisory role to Walker Wood and Amani Gilmore, UK’s only available scholarship options at the position, and Lynn Bowden, a wide receiver who has assumed the role of presumptive starter should Smith not be able to go.
Stoops in his only meeting with reporters this week, however, seemed more than hopeful that Smith would be available for UK come game time.
“Sawyer will be back with Walker and with Lynn,” Stoops said Tuesday. “Those are the options right now.”
So, it sounds like Smith will be available, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play. If his arm is close-to-but-not-quite-at full strength next week, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see how things go with Bowden early against Arkansas and bring Smith off the bench in case of emergency.
Bowden as Kentucky’s QB-1 remains a legitimate option, at least for next week. He has sat in the quarterback meetings and taken reps with the first team this week, and the coaching staff has dug deeper into the playbook to help the former high school quarterback grow more comfortable with the Wildcats’ offense.
Not that he needed that much help.
“Lynn’s a bright guy,” Stoops said. “He knows what’s going on with the offense so he knows where to go with the ball, and that’s a big piece of it.”
Even if Bowden never assumes full-time quarterback duties, working in a different element of the offense will broaden his own abilities and that of the coaches as the season’s homestretch gets closer.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta trick ’em,” Stoops said with a grin, noting what Bowden can pick up about the offense as a receiver while learning it as a quarterback. “… I think we can always build on some of this and have it available to us.”
Bowden to this point in the season has mostly been used in wildcat formations but was in at quarterback to the Cats’ last series at South Carolina, their only one that ended in points. On Tuesday he described playing quarterback as his “natural habitat.”
He posted an image of him throwing the ball last week against the Gamecocks with a one-word caption — “Flashbacks” — with a black heart emoji. In a since-deleted exchange, linebacker DeAndre Square quote-tweeted Bowden’s tweet with his own one-word caption — “QB1” — along with a praying emoji. To that tweet, Bowden responded with a single emoji: Fingers crossed.
It’s easy to figure out why those social media posts were erased — openly calling for any player to start over another, for whatever reason, isn’t a great look — but it was an indicator that Bowden wants to play quarterback for Kentucky. He was a bit more diplomatic when asked about that desire on Tuesday.
“If I gotta go play receiver, then I gotta go play receiver,” Bowden said. “But I’m always open to playing quarterback.”
That question was followed up with one about the NFL Draft, and whether it would be more forward-thinking for him to refine his abilities as a wide receiver instead of playing a position he’ll never play in the league.
“I’m a team player. I’m a winner,” Bowden said. “I don’t like losing, so if I gotta go back there to play quarterback to win and then get myself ready, then that’s what I gotta do.”
Quarterback, receiver, safety (Stoops joked about that one earlier this year). Bowden, because of his raw athleticism, should be valuable wherever he lines up against Arkansas and for the rest of UK’s opponents.
And while he might feel natural under center — and maybe anywhere he’s asked to be — Bowden wants Smith back to full health as much as anyone.
“I’m just ready for him to be back to 100 percent so we can get back to playing ball,” Bowden said. “… I’m ready to win.”
Arkansas at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 (SEC Network)