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Hokies' Belk Bowl goal: Contain Wildcats' Bowden

Associated Press • Dec 31, 2019 at 2:07 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s rare when a team starts a quarterback in a bowl game with more yards rushing, receiving and returning than he has passing.

But that’s exactly what Kentucky will do when Lynn Bowden Jr. leads the Wildcats against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday (noon, ESPN).

The versatile junior made the transition from wide receiver/returner to quarterback five games into the Wildcats’ season, and the team hasn’t looked back since. Kentucky (7-5) earned its fourth straight bowl appearance.

Bowden said he suggested the idea to coach Mark Stoops earlier in the year.

“We were just trying something out,” Bowden said. “I just put it in (the coaches’) ear. The South Carolina game in the last drive, we went down and scored in five plays.”

Stoops said he had some apprehensions at first, but after thinking it through he felt the move gave his team the best chance to win.

“I don’t think you normally see that,” Stoops said. “That was a pretty drastic switch but something that was necessary for us. It speaks a lot for Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw and all of our offensive staff for putting those guys in the right places.”

Bowden has amassed 1,297 yards rushing, 1,303 yards receiving and 1,807 yards on returns. He’s thrown for just 422 yards.

Hokies coach Justin Fuente called the 2016 Mr. Football Ohio runner-up a “dynamic competitor.”

“I don’t know if he’s gotten enough credit on the national level for the transition from receiver to quarterback,” Fuente said. “And he’s running the show and if you are half a man out of your gap, he can score. Not just 5 yards, not just make a first down, but he can take it to the house.”

FOSTER’S FINAL GAME

This will be the final game for Bud Foster, who has spent the past 33 seasons on the Virginia Tech coaching staff. The Hokies are 230-93 since Foster took over as defensive coordinator in 1995.

“He means so much to the program,” said linebacker Rayshard Ashby. “He was here when Virginia Tech got up and started and he helped start it up with a bunch of other coaches and players.

“We’ll be losing more than just a great coach but a great person off the field and mentor and just a great man.”

PROUD BOWL HISTORY

The Hokies are playing in their 27th straight bowl game, the longest streak in the country. While they are just 13-19 all-time during that span, they do have a successful history in the Belk Bowl. In 2016, the Hokies scored 24 points in the third quarter and rallied to beat Arkansas 35-24.

Their bowl streak seemed in jeopardy midway though the season, but Ashby said “we never really thought about the bowl streak. We just knew we could win but we had to get back to being the team that we could be.”

RUN-ORIENTED WILDCATS

Fuente knows the Wildcats won’t be throwing the ball much with Bowden at quarterback. But he also knows they have nine games this season with at least 400 yards rushing and are difficult to stop despite being mostly one-dimensional.

“Essentially, they lined up and threw the ball two times against Louisville,” Fuente said. “One was a bubble and one was a flea-flicker. And they totally dominated the football game.”

HOKIES’ TOP WEAPON

The Hokies have their own versatile QB in Hendon Hooker, who threw for 1,445 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 306 yards and five TDs this season. He took over as Virginia Tech’s QB after the team opened 2-2.

HOKIES ARE YOUNG

Virginia Tech is tied with Texas A&M for the fewest seniors in the FBS with five.

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