CHARLOTTE, N.C. – He used different methods each time, but Lynn Bowden conveyed the same message over and over again on Tuesday.
The Kentucky star began, in particular, hitting a Virginia Tech defender before the Belk Bowl began. He continued during the game by running 34 times for 233 yards, including a 61-yard score, and then applying the knockout hit in the form of a 13-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining.
Finally, when he lifted the MVP trophy after the game, he said it directly: "Stop disrespecting us."
Bowden University's last play was not supposed to be a touchdown, but an injury that ended quarterback Terry Wilson season in Week 2 forced coach Mark Stoops to improvise. After fighting during some games with a traditional offensive, Stoops converted Bowden from a catcher to a hybrid of doing everything that took snapshots of the back field and led a strong career attack capable of the eight-minute winning unit he produced against the Hokies
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“The game goes through it. He's going through it on every play, "Stoops said after the Wildcats' 37-30 victory at Bank of America Stadium." That was one of the most impressive screens I've seen in a long time. "
Stoops, Bowden and the rest of the Kentucky team greatly minimized pregame fights, attributing it to teams that were in closed quarters all week. Bowden apologized after the game, saying he would not throw the blow if he could do it again.
"But it's in the past," Bowden added before waiting a moment, pointing to his Belk Bowl commemorative hat and saying, "Champion."
Bowden will be seen primarily as an open catcher in the 2020 NFL Draft, and although he only ran some routes against Virginia Tech, the 6-1 and 199-pound junior still showed why he felt comfortable leaving his senior season.
Hokies defenders struggled to knock him down throughout the game, especially in the 61-yard touchdown, which featured multiple cuts and tackles.
"Lynn is simply hard-nosed," said Wildcats left guard Logan Stenberg. "He's a skinny offensive lineman. He wants to get in there, he wants to put his face on him, he's physical."
On his last hit, however, Bowden wanted to pass. Despite having 5 to 11 in the air for 60 yards and an interception up to that point, the clock and the field position dictated that he throw. After hearing Josh Ali's open receiver's route to a post, Bowden threw a pass into Ali's arms at the back of the end zone.
After the game, Bowden offered a joke from Lamar Jackson's playbook.
"Everyone said I couldn't throw," he said, "so I exaggerated."
A pass secured the game, but Bowden said the Wildcats did not receive enough credit for having the fourth land attack in the nation (278.8 yards per game after Tuesday) during an 8-5 season in the SEC.
"I don't see how my O-line didn't win any awards," said Bowden. "I don't understand the logic. Is it because we are Kentucky? Are they going to change that? That's just a question for the world. I want to know."
If Kentucky is going to change its reputation, then subclasses will be required to intensify in Bowden's absence. Stoops said several players would probably be needed to replace Bowden's production, although presumably the offense will return to a more balanced approach once Wilson returns.
And even if Bowden's time on the field is over, the Wildcats said their future successes are largely due to the player who took the reins and rescued a season that seemed doomed.
"Here in the United Kingdom," said Stenberg, "it is a legend forever."