The Kentucky offense Georgia faces on Saturday might not be the best it will face this season, but it almost certainly will be the most unique.
The Wildcats will likely have junior Lynn Bowden — yes, the one who’s played receiver for the entirety of his Kentucky career — playing quarterback this weekend after seeing time at the position last week against Arkansas.
His SEC signal-calling debut showed how much of a threat Bowden can be. He went 7-for-11 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for 196 yards and a pair of scores on 24 carries.
“He reminds me of Hines (Ward),” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “What happens is you play conventional coverage and you forget the guy back there is always open. Probably the most dangerous place he has as a football player is when he has the ball in space, at punt return, at kick return, a screen and every play at quarterback is that.”
Last week wasn’t Bowden’s first experience playing quarterback. In his senior season at Warren Harding High School in Youngstown, Ohio, he threw for 1,366 yards and ran for 2,277 more, all told accounting for 57 touchdowns.
But that was high school. Bowden’s performance against the Razorbacks proved he can cause problems for defenses at the highest level of college football as well.
Smart said it’s a huge challenge for a defensive front seven because Bowden can take off running at any time, including on drop-back passes. Where the defense might not account for a more traditional pocket passer on passing plays, a failure to pick up Bowden on Saturday could result in a big gain on the ground.
Then, just when the run is taken care of, Bowden has the ability to hit a big play over the top.
“You think when he’s back there he’s not going to throw it, but it becomes harder to defend him because you let the pass creep out of your mind and then he hits two or three big passes,” Smart said.
The key to preventing big plays from Bowden, cornerback Eric Stokes said, is all about discipline.
“You’ve just got to treat him like a regular quarterback,” Stokes said. “You’ve got to go ahead and be 100 percent focused on your job. Then after that, hopefully everybody else will and hopefully everybody else on defense will do their job.”
Even outside of discipline, there are schematic elements that can be designed to slow down an athletic quarterback.
The Bulldogs will likely employ a quarterback spy to shadow Bowden’s movements in the pocket and come up and make a tackle should he take off.
Junior linebacker Monty Rice could be one of the Georgia defenders tasked with spying Bowden. He said it’s all about keeping his eyes locked in on the Kentucky quarterback. When he goes, so does Rice.
“If you choose one side he’s going to run to the other, so you’ve got to wait until he starts to make a move, then you go,” Rice said.
After Dakereon Joyner entered the game at quarterback for South Carolina last Saturday, he extended several plays and gained some extra yards as a result of his ability to move around in the pocket. That challenge will be ramped up on Saturday when the Bulldogs take the field against Bowden.
If Georgia wants to avoid its second upset in as many weeks, it will have to do a better job in corralling a more explosive athlete.
“It makes you play the game so different – it’s unusual and in college football you’re not used to playing that kind of game,” Smart said. “It makes you call the game differently.”