There doesn’t seem to be as much buzz or anticipation for this seasons battle for the Governor’s Cup. I think that the Cardinals uninspired performance against Houston has a lot to do with that. It might also be the fact that the Cardinals haven’t lost a football game to Kentucky since 2010… But by the time kickoff rolls around tomorrow I expect the spirit of this Bluegrass Rivalry to be in full effect. The all-time series is currently tied at 14, with Louisville winning the past five meetings. The Wildcats will bring one of the best teams they’ve had during the Stoops era into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and they are Bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season. Our Cardinals also have one of the best teams they’ve had during Petrino Era part 2. We have enjoyed watching them compete for a playoff spot all season and will hopefully enjoy another victory over Kentucky on Saturday at noon.
This is the third season that this game will take its place at the table of rivalry weekend in college football. And this has the potential to be one of the better games on Saturday. Kentucky is finally getting together enough size, talent, speed and athleticism to be fairly competitive again. They have done a nice job utilizing their talent with that Wildcat offense. They have rushed for 2,666 yards this season out of that Wildcat look and are ranked #17 in the country in rushing offense. Their passing attack isn’t as effective but still capable of that big play. They have 1,892 yards through the air this season ranked 111th in passing offense. This Kentucky team has been inconsistent at times on the defensive end of the field but can be very good at times. They are ranked #81 in total defense allowing 428 yards a game. They are giving up 220 yards a game on the ground and 208 yards a game through the air.
Leading the Kentucky offense is QB Stephen Johnson. He took over the starting role after Drew Barker was injured. Johnson isn’t going to “wow you” but is consistent and does a good job out of the Wildcat offense. He has 1,524 yards through the air with a 9:4 TD: INT ratio and has 195 yards with 2 touchdowns on the ground. The Wildcats offense has taken off in the past few weeks in large part thanks to the two headed monster of running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr. This duo is as good as any in the country. Williams ranks seventh nationally and is second in the SEC in yards per carry (7.3) and 32nd nationally. He has 2,413 career rushing yards, seventh on Kentucky’s career rushing list. Snell’s 1,006 rushing yards this season is a school record for a freshman in a single season. Williams ranked #31 in rushing yards uses his speed to run by people and Snell ranked #41 uses power to run over people. This kid is a beast…
In the Wildcats passing attack WR Jeff Badet has surfaced as a solid threat himself with 335 yards and three scores on just 14 catches over the past five weeks. When this guy catches a pass he makes em count ranked second nationally in yards per catch at 24.46 per reception. The Kentucky offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the success of this team. This is one of their most experienced positions returning 83 career starts, including 46 from last year. Senior center Jon Toth anchors their O-line and he has started in 46 consecutive games. He is considered one of the top centers in college football.
Trying to stop the Wildcat Offense is a Cardinals defense that has been strong against the run, holding eight foes to less than 140 rushing yards. They have limited the last five opponents to an average of 58.4 yards per game and will need that type of effort against this Kentucky offense on Saturday. DT DeAngelo Brown (11.0 tackles for loss), LB Devonte’ Fields (22 tackles, 5 sacks), S Josh Harvey-Clemons (33 tackles), and LB Keith Kelsey (41 tackles) will be running out onto the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the last time on Saturday. These guys have never suffered a loss to the Wildcats and how they play tomorrow will determine if they can graduate with that claim. The Louisville defense took the day off last Thursday night. They have had over a week to think about that effort. I think we will see an inspired performance out of this group.
So far this season, Lamar Jackson has 3,109 passing yards with 28 touchdowns, and also leads the Cardinals in rushing on 209 yards and 1,367 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had a breakout performance against Kentucky last season leading the Cardinal’s to a come from behind victory at Commonwealth Stadium. Jackson is a fierce competitor and you can bet that he doesn’t want to end his record breaking regular season with a loss to the Wildcats. For offensive leaders RB Brandon Radcliff (787, 6 touchdowns), WR James Quick (621 yards, 6 touchdowns), WR Jamari Staples (593 yards, 2 touchdowns), and TE Cole Hikutini (556 yards, 7 touchdowns) this will also be their last time on the home turf. This offense has been explosive and these guys have been a big reason why. Makes no sense to think that they won’t play a big role in this one. This rivalry tends to mean a lot more to the guys from the state and in the case of OL Tobijah Hughley who is from Lexington it really means a lot. He along with OL Matt Cohen, and OL Kiola Mahoni will be playing their last game in front of the home crowd and they should be motivated to finish the home-stand strong. They’ll want to erase that awful game last week (11 sacks) out of the minds of Cardinal fans.
Trying to slow down the explosive Louisville offensive attack is a Kentucky defense that has been very inconsistent this season. They can play lock down on one series then turn around and give up the big play on the next. Playing against this Louisville offense that averages over 15 yards per catch (#8 nationally) that could be a problem for them. This Wildcat defense is strongest at the Linebacker position. LB Jordan Jones is a really good player and flies around all over the field looking for somebody to hit. He has 90 tackles this season to rank third among all SEC defenders with 8.2/game. He also leads the SEC in solo tackles (62), and has a team-high nine quarterback hurries. He will be the biggest challenge for the Louisville offensive line on Saturday. LB Courtney Love, a transfer from Nebraska, is third on the team with 62 tackles and strong-side LB Josh Allen has posted 53 tackles with a team high 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, which ranks eighth nationally. Kentucky also has five corner-backs with extensive experience, including Freshman All-American and Freshman All-SEC corner-back Chris Westry (72 career tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 11 pass breakups). If the Wildcats pull off the upset Saturday these guys will be a big part of it.
I always look forward to this football game. Rivalries are what make college sports so interesting and we have one of the best rivalries in the country. For the first time in a while this game will make its way back to ESPN for the noon kickoff. I hope both teams come out and play the best game of their seasons and make this one an instant classic. With their running backs they could make it a very competitive game and the Louisville defense will face one of the toughest challenges of the season. Penalties could also play a big part in a game like this. The Wildcats are ranked #25 in fewest penalties per game while our Cardinals rank #122. Having said all of that I think Lamar Jackson along with the emotions of Senior Day will be the difference in this one. This is one of the better teams that Kentucky has brought into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and I do think it will be competitive but the Cardinals will win their sixth straight in the Governor’s Cup battle. Let’s get loud tomorrow Cardinal Fans. GO CARDS!
The Beak’s Prediction for the
Howard Schnellenberger Award:
My prediction for the award this year is Lamar Jackson. I believe he will win this award for his ability to take over this game like he did last season. He should be able to have his way with a very inconsistent UK defense. The Stoops defense has struggled with mobile QB’s and will have trouble with the speed and athleticism of Jackson again on Saturday.
The 2010 game was the inaugural year for the award. The award is given to the Most Valuable Player of the game. It is named for Howard Schnellenberger, who played under Bear Bryant for Kentucky and coached at Louisville.
-(9-04-2010) Derrick Locke, RB@ Kentucky had 23 Carries, 104 Yards, for 2 TD’s
-(9-17-2011) Dexter Heyman, LB@ Louisville had 12 Tackles & 1 Forced Fumbles
-(9-02-2012) Teddy Bridgewater Louisville QB 19/21, 232 Yards
-(9-14-2013) Teddy Bridgewater Louisville QB 16/28, 250 Yards, 1 TD
-(11-29-2014) DeVante Parker Louisville WR 6 Receptions, 180 Yards, 3 TD’s
-(11-28-2015) Lamar Jackson Louisville QB 8/21, 130 yards, 1 TD 17 carries, 186 yards, 2 TDs