From there, the co-coordinator who became the lone coordinator the next season, Bud Foster, also became damned-near a topographical formation in southwest Virginia, as reliably present as the New River or the Barter Theatre or the campus-dominant Hokie Stone, that dolomite that debuted geologically around the same time as fish, insects and reptiles — or roughly just before Frank Beamer hired Foster.
Wins and opponents’ punts aplenty followed, so if a coordinator can make an era — yes, he can — that era closes Tuesday at noon in Charlotte when Virginia Tech (8-4) plays Kentucky (7-5) in apparently the last of those things known as a “Belk Bowl” (with sponsorship about to change). Yet this Belk Bowl got a heap of things right in its matchup, because it’s about to have Foster, one of the most durable coordinators anybody ever saw, aiming to solve Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr., one of the damndest college football players anybody ever saw.
The Belk Bowl has juice, plot-wise.
In his 324th game helming a defense after 33 seasons as a Virginia Tech coach and 25 in his current role, the retiring coordinator who turned 60 in July will make his geometric ploy against a quarterback whose total of receptions plummeted from 67 in 2018, the most by a Kentucky sophomore since Randall Cobb, to a mere 30 in 2019.
Disclaimer: That’s because Bowden moved to quarterback as of Oct. 12, after which Kentucky went 5-2. In truth, he should have obtained a special provision that allowed him to throw passes to himself, providing unusual intrigue for the ticket-buying public.
Still, the 6-foot-1, 199-pound junior from Youngstown, Ohio, having declared for the NFL draft in early December, leads Kentucky with 1,235 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. He leads Kentucky with those 30 receptions. He is second with 330 passing yards on his spare 29 for 62. He is first in kickoff-return yardage at 200. He has run back four punts for 53 yards, a year after becoming one of only three players from coast to coast to run two for touchdowns.
He is a marvel of multi-tasking.
Then, as the regular season closed in the intrastate festival of contempt against Louisville, Bowden made a game tape all football beings — maybe even Foster — ought to watch with the finest popcorn. He rushed for 284 yards and touchdowns of six, 60, 46 and 32 yards, the last three helping grow Kentucky’s lead from 17-13 at halftime to 45-13 by last call.
He even helped out a slightly glum coach who had just seen his 11-point lead shrink to four shortly after some fourth-and-one snake eyes gave Louisville brief CPR.
“Came right back in here [to the locker room at halftime],” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said at his news conference that day. “Didn’t flinch. Lynn said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got you,’ and he did. What can you say about Lynn? He is truly remarkable in so many ways. But you have to recognize his competitive nature, and just how tough and competitive and what a leader he is. In our business, if you are going to be an alpha dog, then you be an alpha dog, and that’s him.”
Then Stoops cautiously compared Bowden to that former Louisville resident Lamar Jackson, whom Stoops called “maybe the greatest player that I ever competed against,” while stressing he meant it strictly in terms of the two players’ reservoirs of competitiveness.
Weeks later, before leaving for Charlotte, Foster wondered aloud to reporters in Blacksburg if there might be more than one Bowden out there.
“If you look at the stats, he’s their leading receiver, leading kick returner and their quarterback and leading rusher,” Foster said. “How many guys are out there? Just a dynamic athlete. You know, he’s first team all-American, utility. He won a national award (Paul Hornung Award), recognized for that. Just really special. Has breakaway speed. Has great vision, great strength. Has the ability to put his foot in the ground and get north-south. Has the ability to break tackles.”
As an untold bonus, Bowden has one of the best football nicknames in football-nickname history, “Six,” which he picked up in high school for the obvious reason while finishing runner-up in Ohio’s Mr. Football voting. As he finished his masterpiece against Louisville, he told reporters, “I just had to trust my speed. My coach and my teammates have been getting on me because I cut too much, and I definitely agree with that. I trust my cut ability more than my speed, and today I just wanted to try something new and strike a match.”
He chose lanes so expertly before deploying his easy stride that running back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. told reporters, “That is another attribute of being great: being patient.”
It got so effective that Kentucky went 1 for 2 passing and Stoops had to say, “But we do want to go back to the forward pass,” whereupon his audience laughed.
Now, Bowden will try to strike a match against a pillar, and it’s enough of a collision that, in the run-up, it overshadows the gathering promise of a North Carolinian, Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker. Taking over midseason like Bowden, but for different reasons, and making good decision upon good decision, Hooker has a passer rating (171.91) that would stand No. 8 nationally if included on the list.
It took him all the way to regular season’s end to throw even one interception — touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio: 11-2 — and he might shine again even if, at the end, the sun will both shine and set on the longest coordinator stand in present-day college football. Foster called it “bittersweet” and said it’ll be weird in January when he’ll begin an “ambassador” role with the school. Then, he’ll live without staff meetings and recruiting trips, and with dinners that might continue without returns to the office. “It’s going to be kind of nice, I think,” he marveled about the coming weirdness.
So ends the year-long send-off and, with Virginia Tech’s nation-leading 27th straight bowl game, it will mean Foster has coached in five Gator Bowls, four Sugar (including the 1999-2000 national championship game), four Orange, two Independence, two Peach, two Military, one Music City, one San Francisco, one Insight, one Sun, one Russell Athletic, one Camping World — and two Belks.
There’s one last moving puzzle to solve, and this one does move.
Read more on college football: