Tribune Mizzou athletics reporter Eric Blum spoke with Jon Hale of the Louisville Courier-Journal ahead of Missouri's football game at Kentucky on Saturday.
Hale, who has covered Kentucky athletics since 2011, gave his thoughts on the matchup, Kentucky's quarterback position and much more.
You can hear the full conversation on this week’s episode of the Mizzou Sports Podcast.
The following has been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Blum: What can you share with us about Kentucky this season and its 3-4 start?
Hale: It’s a really interesting spot for the Wildcats this season. There were a lot of expectations going into it, but I think most reasonable people expected them to take a step back from last year where they won 10 games for the first time in 40 years, went to a New Year’s Day bowl game and had a winning record in SEC play for the first time since 1977. But you lose Benny Snell, Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher, Josh Allen, the 2018 national defensive player of the year, the entire starting secondary and 16 starters overall. It was fair to expect that Kentucky was not going to be a 10-win team this season. The differing opinions going into it were how far of a step the Wildcats were going to take back. The schedule was pretty easy by SEC standards. So it looked like there was a path to eight or nine wins if Terry Wilson took a step forward at quarterback. Two games into the season, Wilson goes down with a season-ending knee injury. Two games later, the backup quarterback, Sawyer Smith, goes down with a wrist and shoulder injury. So Lynn Bowden Jr., a wide receiver, is starting at quarterback. The team’s third-string quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp. Bowden is in that position because of necessity more than anything else.
Blum: Starting Bowden wasn't also because of coach Mark Stoops' lack of recruiting or preparation, correct? He’s just the best option at this time?
Hale: Yeah, absolutely. Even beyond the quarterbacks on the roster, it becomes more interesting. Matt Jones, who is starting in place of Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama this weekend, was committed to Kentucky for over a year but flipped to Alabama after his stock rose the summer before his senior year and got a bunch of high-profile offers. Jarren Williams, who started the first six games for Miami (Fla.) before he got hurt, was committed to Kentucky for more than a year before flipping to Miami when his stock rose. The Wildcats' No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks from a year ago, Gunnar Hoak transferred to Ohio State to be the backup there, and Danny Clark transferred to a junior college. They both saw the writing on the wall with Wilson coming off a 10-win season and wanted to go somewhere else for more playing time or have a hometown feel. There were seven or eight quarterbacks that could have been starting this season before Bowden. It’s a situation unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Blum: What makes Bowden so dynamic to be the emergency choice?
Hale: Bowden played quarterback in high school and he was a star. He did a little bit of everything. Bowden could’ve been the top player in Ohio his senior year, but there were some off-field issues that got in the way for him as a recruit. He’s been pretty open about it this year. He was heading toward a bad path in his life and getting involved in some things that weren’t good for him or his career. He had a son his senior year of high school and refocused on football and doing things the right way. It was always going to be a situation where he switched to wide receiver in college. He’s just too small to be a Power Five starting quarterback. It took him a year to learn the (receiver) position. But this was the year with Snell gone that he was going to become the all-SEC wide receiver. When Kentucky loses arguably its three best options for quarterback, it just decided to put the ball in the hands of its best player left as much as possible.
Blum: The spread currently stands with Missouri being favored by 10 1/2 points. Do you think that’s fair, and will Kentucky cover? Do you have a final score prediction?
Hale: If Missouri’s mental psyche with losing to Vanderbilt doesn’t affect the game, I think the spread is right considering Kentucky’s quarterback struggles. I do have some legitimate concerns as to what Missouri will look like this weekend and the weather if it’s raining and ugly, which it might be. My guess is Kentucky covers, but Missouri wins. I can’t pick the Wildcats to win and score enough points at the moment. I do think it’ll probably be a single-digit game — something like 27-21.