Game Day: Louisville At Cincinnati

Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (10-1, 6-1) AT CINCINNATI BEARCATS (9-2, 6-1)

Game Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Nipper Stadium: Cincinnati, OH

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Rece Davis (play-by-play), David Pollack (analyst), Jesse Palmer (analyst) and Kaylee Hartung (sidelines)

Favorite: Louisville by 3.5

All-Time Series: Cincinnati leads 29-22-1

Last Meeting: Louisville won 34-31 in overtime last season at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium

Series History:

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Notable Cardinal Numbers in the Series

5: interceptions, tied for the most in a single-game 1989-present (1989)
5: second most touchdowns passes in a single game 1989-present (1998, 1990)
5: receiving touchdowns by Anthony Cummings, the most in school history (1990)
9: second highest number of touchdowns scored in a game 1989-present (2004)
12: number of games in which the winning team was victorious by a touchdown or less
15: receptions by Arnold Jackson, tied for the most in all-time school history (1999)
67: passing attempts; the most in a game 1989-present (1997)
70: most points scored by a single team in the series' history; U of L racked up 70 at home (2004)
80: yards of Bilal Powell's touchdown run in 2010, the longest in series history (2010)
98: offensive plays, the most in a single game 1989-present (1997)
136: yards rushing by T.J. Patterson (2001)
147: yards rushing by Calvin Price (1977)
154: punt return yards, the most in a single game from 1989-present (1997)
158: yards rushing by Eric Shelton (2004)
194: yards receiving by Deion Branch, tied for the fourth-most in all-time school history (2000)
209: Number of yards Bilal Powell rushed for in 2010's loss (2010)
357: second-highest total of rushing yards in a single game 1989-present (2004)
460: passing yards, the seventh-highest total in a single game 1989-present (1997)
742: total offensive yards, the most in a single game from 1989-present (1997)

About the Keg of Nails:

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The Keg of Nails is a traveling trophy in college football, awarded to the winner of the Universities of Louisville and Cincinnati (which are now connected by Interstate 71) since 1929.

The football rivalry stretches over the span of 4 conferences: the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA, the Big East, and now the American Athletic Conference. It is the oldest rivalry for the University of Louisville football team and the second oldest for Cincinnati (the UC-Miami(OH) rivalry is older).

The trophy is a replica of a keg used to ship nails. The exchange is believed to have been initiated by fraternity chapters on the UC and U of L campuses, signifying that the winning players in the game were "tough as nails."

The present keg is actually a replacement for the original award, which was misplaced by Louisville, ironically lost during some construction of office facilities. It is adorned with the logos of both schools and the scores of the series games.

Statistics:

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Relevant Videos:



Relevant Pregame Images:

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About Cincinnati:

Via GoCardsGuy

OFFENSE:

At one point this season Teddy Bridgewater didn't even lead his own conference in completion percentage. He trailed Brandon Kay, who has been the starter at UC since week 3. Kay is a major upgrade from Munchie "I'm better than Teddy" Legaux, who Louisville faced last year. UC runs a spread offense and just like anyone that spreads the field, they need a quarterback that can deliver the ball accurately to the playmakers out wide. Kay does a great job of making a quick decision on where to go with the ball and delivering an accurate pass.

Louisville is still allowing too many yards down the field and Kay has plenty of arm to get the ball down to his stable of wideouts. Kay benefits from getting a ton of time from his offensive line and he tends to play with somewhat of a gunslinger's mentality. He knows just how good his receivers are and he trusts them to make plays for him. It has worked out very well for him so far this year and Louisville will need to respect his arm strength or get burned.

Ralph Abernathy only had 11 touches in last year's game and he scored 2 touchdowns. The fact that he scored twice isn't as crazy as the fact that they didn't get him the ball more after that. Abernathy is the type of "space" player that Louisville struggles with and he had a couple of really nice plays early on last year. UC didn't struggle running the ball, but I think that he is a weapon against aggressive defenses and he was underutilized.

This year, Abernathy has struggled to make many big plays, but he has been given the opportunities. He's still super scary in space and he worries me to death because he can cut so quickly and make guys miss. He teams with Tion Green and Hosey Williams to provide a very formidable backfield. Williams is having the best season statistically, but any of these three can easily take over a game. Louisville has to make UC one dimensional to slow down this offense. Stopping the draw plays UC likes to run will be essential to a win.

UC's receivers are just stellar. These guys are always open and they make a ton of plays at all levels of the passing game. They have 5 legit guys including Shaq Washington, who's good for about 7 catches a game,. Max Morrison is a really nice possession guy that works the middle of the field well. Louisville native MeKale McKay has 7 touchdowns on just 14 catches. Former Louisville commit Anthony McClung is probably having the best season all-around with a shot at hitting 1,000 yards with two solid games to end his season. Finally you have Chris Moore, who is catching touchdown passes at a DeVante Parker-ish rate. He does it just as impressively also. These guys are really good and they are easily the most talented group Louisville has seen this year. Louisville will have to put pressure on Kay to keep these guys from opening things up and getting down the field. He is fearless when it comes to throwing it up and letting his guys go get it. It usually works out in his favor.

The offensive line is having one of the better seasons of any group in the country. They are allowing one sack per game and they are opening giant holes for their backs. What makes the so good in my opinion is their versatility. They can pass protect very well. They do very well getting outside for screen plays and reverses. They also can line up and smack you in the mouth. Louisville couldn't pressure UCF at all in their only loss this year and they can't let that happen against UC or it will be a ling night.

KEY PLAYERS: Pick your poison. There's talent at every position.

DEFENSE:

UC's defense is about as close to Louisville's as their is in the conference this year. They stymie the run while getting tons of pressure on the quarterback. They like to blitz and trust their defensive backs to stay with opposing receivers. Statistically, they're pretty much right behind Louisville in every category. It's almost uncanny. Teams have been able to pressure Teddy a lot more in the second half of the season. UC will undoubtedly play aggressively because they will trust their offense to score points if Teddy handles the pressure well. This could be the game fans have been waiting for from Louisville's offense as the pressure could lead to lots of attempts down the field.

Silverberry Mouhon leads a very stout defensive line for the Bearcats. He and Jordan Stepp do a great job of getting around blocks to make plays in the backfield. Mouhon is a really good edge rusher and he is very athletic for his size. He seems to line up to the wide side of the field from what I can tell, so he will probably matchup against both tackles. Stepp is a super strong tackle that just plows through people. He plays low which allows him to get great push and he makes plays once he gets where he is going. The line doesn't do a great job of holding up blockers, but they do make plenty of plays on their own to compensate.

Greg Blair gets most of the publicity at linebacker and Jeff Luc is the biggest "name" player on the defense as a whole but Nick Temple really stands out on film. Temple is absolutely everywhere. They use him as somewhat of a weapon for the defense. He blitzes from different angles, plays well in coverage, and he does both very well. There is no weak link at the second level that most teams seem to have. UC isn't great in pass coverage here, but they have experienced guys that won't be caught out of position very often. They also have guys that can get to Teddy in a hurry when they blitz. These guys are all big guys that can run. Temple is undersized, but he has no problem taking on blocks when needed.

One area of the defense that could be nitpicked is the starting secondary and the lack of big plays. You would really have to be nitpicking, though. This group lost a couple of guys from last year and they took a little time trying to find the right group of guys this year, but I'd say that the group they've settled on has played well. Cornerback Deven Drane has bounced back from getting torched by DeVante Parker last year and the rest of the group has been solid. I think the most interesting matchup will be Teddy versus true freshman Zach Edwards. Edwards can run well and he has played well. I just wonder if Teddy can take advantage of young player playing in such a big game.

KEY PLAYERS: DE Silverberry Mouhon, WLB Nick Temple, MLB Greg Blair, S Arryn Chenault

Excitement Level: 9.1

Sure, it would be higher if U of L had a shot at the BCS or a guaranteed share of the conference title, but still...there's a friggin' keg of friggin' nails at stake here, and the winner may get to keep it forever.

Pregame Meal: Thinking Wick's, but still undecided

I have way too many friends with "adult obligations" (sounds sexual, but it's way less cool) tonight, so the watch party is going to be pretty thin. It also means an every man for themselves scenario as far as food is concerned.

Game Attire: Red Louisville Football shirt, under red and white Cardinal hoodie, jeans, Red Cardinal bird shoes

Same outfit as the season finale at Rutgers on a Thursday night last year.

Bold Prediction: Louisville fakes a punt

Last game of the regular season and we haven't seen one of these all year.

Predicted Star of the Game: DeVante Parker

A huge game on national television gets the serious NFL chatter going a month earlier than expected.

Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Cornflower (weaker than Veronica Townsend's parenting ability)

Motivational Opposing Player Tweets:

The last one's not a player, but there were way too many "F--k Louisville" tweets to not provide at least one sample.

Notable:

--A win for Louisville would give the Cards at least 11 wins in a season for just the fifth time in program history.

--Cincinnati has not lost a home game this season, while the Cardinals have not lost on the road.

--Cincinnati owns a 16-12 advantage over Louisville in games played in Cincinnati.

--The Cardinals can earn a share of the American Athletic Conference regular season title - it would be Louisville's third-consecutive regular-season crown - with a win over Cincinnati and a UCF loss to SMU on Saturday.

--Cincinnati is still in the running for the AAC's Bowl Championship Series bid. If the Bearcats beat Louisville Thursday, UCF loses to SMU Saturday, and UC is ranked higher than UCF in the final BCS standings, Cincy will head to the BCS.

--Cincinnati is 8-0 all-time in Thursday night games played at Nippert Stadium, and 11-2 overall. The Bearcats are 1-0 in Thursday night games against Louisville.

--The Louisville media guide lists the Keg of Nail series overall record as 22-30-1 with the first game occurring in 1922. The Cincinnati media guide, on the hand, date the start of the series as 1929 and lists the overall series record as 30-21-1. Louisville was scheduled to play Transylvania on Nov. 4, 1922 but the Lexington school cancelled the week prior to the contest. Cincinnati was scheduled to play West Virginia on that date but sent a "team of second-liners" to play Louisville. UofL defeated the UC reserves by a score of 28-0.

--UC has won four of the last five games against Louisville. Prior to the Bearcats' four game win streak, Louisville had won won 9 of 10 games.

--The last time Louisville and Cincinnati met in a regular season finale was 2003, when the Cardinals won a 43-40 shootout in the snow.

--Cincinnati players don't know how to properly handle the keg of nails.

--Tonight will be the first time in the history of the series that Louisville and Cincinnati have played with both owning a national ranking. U of L is ranked in the top 20 of both polls, while the Bearcats are No. 23 in this week's coaches' poll.

--Louisville will be wearing an alternate helmet tonight.

--Cincinnati has deemed tonight's game a "Black Out" for its fans.

--Louisville is 4-0 all-time against Cincinnati when owning a national ranking.

--Louisville is 6-0 all-time against Cincinnati when favored to win by less than 7 points.

--Teddy Bridgewater is six touchdowns shy of setting a new U of L record for touchdown passes in a season.

--The Bearcats are no. 9 nationally in total defense (302.4) and rank fifth in rushing defense (91.5) and tied for ninth in scoring defense (18.5) and red zone defense (0.714).

--Louisville standout Dominique Brown and Preston Brown (no relation) were both once committed to play for Cincinnati.

--Cincinnati has produced at least 340 yards of total offense in 24 consecutive games.

--Louisville has won thee straight Thursday night games, and is 21-22 all-time on the day.

--Since 2007 in Nippert Stadium, uc is 6-0 on thursday night and outscoring its opponents by a 235-47 margin.

--The last time Louisville played at Cincinnati, some UC fans made fun of my Art Carmody jersey during the first half. The memory has stayed with me in a dark, dark place for the past 752 days.

--Louisville has allowed just six first quarter points this season.

--When scoring 20 points or more in a game under the direction of Charlie Strong, the Cardinals' record is 34-7. Louisville is also 24-3 under Strong when holding opponents to 20 or fewer points.

--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 141-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.

--Cincinnati has produced more than 500 yards of total offense four times this season. The Louisville defense is second in the country in yards allowed per game (242.5 ypg), and has surrendered more than 400 yards is a game just once.

Quotable:

--"It will be a packed house with a sold out crowd. We have to go in and stay focused. We have to make sure we make them earn everything they get by not giving up the big throws or turn the ball over on offense." --Charlie Strong

--"When your last game really means something - whether it's a chance to go to a different bowl, or the possibility for a chance of a piece of a championship, it makes it a lot more fun." --Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville

--"This is the biggest game I've ever played in in my life. I know everybody is still thinking that we should have won last year. That's going to be on the back of our minds, every play." --Cincinnati linebacker Greg Blair Jr.

--"It is going to be crazy. I feel like the fans for Cincinnati will pack the house and it will be a hostile environment. As a team, we have been through this before, like playing Rutgers last year. I think we are prepared and we will be ready to go on Thursday." --Marcus Smith

--"This is a player's game. Any time you play a game like this at the end of the year, you don't have to give them any motivation other than to make sure they're focused on what they're doing. I've never had to motivate a team in a game of this caliber." --Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville

--"When we found out we play them the last game of the season this year, we all marked it on our calendar." --Cincinnati guard Austen Bujnoch

--"This is definitely a defining moment. It's pretty cut and dry." --Cincinnati quarterback Jordan Luallen

--"I think (Kentucky) is our biggest rival, but I think Cincinnati is right there with them with the guys we recruit, the areas we recruit, the conference we play in. The way that the rivalry has worked out these past few years, and the way that some of the games have transpired, I think it really plays into the whole situation." --Jake Smith

--"Both Louisville and ourselves would love to be undefeated, which we were all counting on at the beginning of the year at this point in deciding the conference championship. We still have something to say about it, but we can't control it." --Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville

--"This is the game. Everybody has been waiting for this game. There's not really much you can say about it. It speaks for itself." --Cincinnati cornerback Deven Drane

--"Whoever wins this one gets the keg for a little bit." --Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay said.

CC Prediction: Louisville 28, Cincinnati 27

Full admission: I've had a bad feeling about this one all week and was fully prepared to abstain from a prediction, but I just can't do it. I really don't like these guys, and I have faith that pride will be enough motivation for our boys to rise to the occasion.

GO CARDS.

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