LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (9-2) vs. KENTUCKY WILDCATS (6-5)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (analyst) and Dr. Jerry Punch (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 26.5
All-Time Series: Tied at 14
Modern Series: Louisville leads 14-8
Last Meeting: Louisville won 38-24 last season at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington
Complete Series History:
About The Governor's Cup
The Governor's Cup was created in 1994 as the trophy for the winner of the Kentucky-Louisville game.
Donated by The Kroger Company at a cost of $23,000, the Governor's Cup stands 33 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds. The trophy's base and upright columns are hand-milled black marble. The glass components are optic-grade crystal. All metal parts are 23-karat, gold-plated brass. The cup itself is made of pewter with a 23-karat gold-plated finish.
The Governor's Cup currently resides in Louisville.
Louisville Depth Chart:
Louisville's defense has been one of the better units in the country this year but they have been asked to do a great job in bad situations. Louisville's offense turns the ball over more than almost any team in the country and the defense has been left to clean up their mess. 27 turnovers have led to much closer games than Louisville expected and at times the defense has had to defend short fields. Being put in those bad spots against bad offenses like Virginia and Wake Forest weren't that big of a deal, but Houston took full advantage and put up 31 points with ease. While Kentucky isn't Houston, they are a team that knows what they do well and they excel at it. They're also a team that does something that Louisville has had some struggles with.
Louisville fans got their first glimpse at highly touted recruit Drew Barker last year and he couldn't have played much worse. This season started out rough for Barker also and then he went down with a back injury on top of all of it. Stephen Johnson was brought in this offseason as a JUCO signee and he was forced into action on short notice. Johnson was reportedly ready to start as soon as he signed and he felt he was the best option for Kentucky. That confident attitude probably helped him be prepared for his moment. Johnson isn't a quarterback that you you want if you need someone to make plays for you or make a comeback for you. However, he is a guy that can make a handful of good passes against basic coverages. Johnson can also deliver a very nice deep ball inside the hashes which is great for UK with their great running game. Johnson doesn't have to look off a safety or worry about a zone blitz where he might not see a linebacker jumping into a window. UK doesn't ask Johnson to do too much and he isn't really capable of doing more than what's asked. He's not a bad player by any means but he is definitely the guy UK wants to rely on to "win" the game.
For the last two years I spent a lot of time wondering why Boom Williams doesn't get the ball more. Boom is the best weapon UK has and for the last few years he's barely been averaging double digit touches. Well, the reason for that is the fact that Boom is super fragile and when he gets too many carries he ends up missing a lot of plays because he gets beat up. Eddie Gran solved that problem this year when he decided that true freshman Benny Snell should start getting carries in the third game. Snell provided UK with a true change of pace running back that could take the majority of carries and allow Boom to stretch his usage. UK used JoJo Kemp in this role last year and he had some games that were really good but his lack of size also led to him being limited. Snell doesn't have the problem. He's a workhorse guy that can run the ball over and over again and not wear down. Then you counter with Boom to hit the tired defense with speed and quickness. To be perfectly honest, it's what UK had glimpses of last year but what they've been missing the vast majority of the time. Mark Stoops finally stopped trying to be an air raid team and it made his entire team better.
Kentucky's receivers don't get many opportunities to make plays due to Kentucky's run game as well as Johnson's lacking passing ability. When they do get the chance, they're not really setting the world on fire. Jeff Badet and Dorian Baker have been plagued by drops. Ryan Timmons has never reached his potential. Others just haven't had enough opportunities. I will say that Jeff Badet has been a bright spot as the team's deep threat this year. He doesn't always catch the ball, but he has had little issue with getting behind a defense. Badet is at his best on deep post routes because he lacks the size to make a play over a corner on a go route. Also, UK does a really good job with play action and it's much easier to complete a deep ball into the middle of the field than the sideline. Badet and Garrett Johnson get the lion's share of targets from Johnson so they will likely be the guys he looks for in a big game like this one. C.J. Conrad has also been getting more looks at the tight end spot. Conrad might be the most talented pass catcher on the team but they have had some issues finding ways to get him the ball. Keith Kelsey and Stacy Thomas are both good in coverage so UofL hasn't had to worry about tight ends much this season. However, UK runs the ball better than pretty much everyone else on Louisville's schedule and that could cause those guys to hesitate instead of dropping into coverage immediately. Conrad could exploit those zones over the middle.
The offensive line is the best group on team, in my opinion. Jon Toth is one of the best centers in the country and UK finally settled on a full group this year instead of shuffling guys in and out. Drew Barker was sacked 8 times in the two games he finished, but Johnson has made quicker decisions and he's been able to escape some pressure. With Johnson at the helm, the offensive line has opened big holes for Snell and Boom and the offense as a whole has been able to adjust to a power running game. This is the best offensive line Louisville will see since the Clemson game. It will be interesting to see how UofL's pressure works with a veteran guy like Tothmaking the line calls.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Benny Snell, RB Boom Williams, WR Jeff Badet, C John Toth
Mark Stoops is a former defensive coordinator and when he came to Lexington many believed that he would bring a great defensive system. Instead, Stoops attempted to bring an "Air Raid" offensive philosophy that failed him. Stoops has yet to have a defense that could consistently stop opposing offenses. Stoops' early recruiting classes were highly-touted, but they haven't totally panned out on the defensive side of the ball. Some of it is due to injuries but it has always felt like they just missed on too many guys. They've also relied on help from JUCO transfers which can turn into an issue when you don't back fill that position with a high school player that can eventually take over. Stoops has finally fielded a defense with some solid things going for it this year. He has a couple of guys that can make impact plays and he has some depth to withstand injuries and fatigue.
Kentucky's 3-4 base defense adjust into a 4-man line a lot but the base line doesn't do much at all from an impact standpoint. Adrian Middleton has played better in recent weeks but he and Courtney Miggins have both been guys that just try to hold up blocks and let the linebackers make plays. That's not a bad thing for this system, but it's just as boring as it sounds. Honestly, UofL's system really doesn't ask the defensive line to do that much more than UK's does. But they still make plays. DeAngelo Brown leads the team in tackles for loss, for example. Naquez Pringle mans the nose tackle spot for the Wildcats but he hasn't done much to make plays either. Matt Elam doesn't play anymore but Pringle wasn't really much of an upgrade at the position. Louisville's offensive line is coming off of a horrible game so the Wildcat defensive line might be on top of their game in hopes to have a similar outing to Houston's.
Kentucky's linebackers are the best they've been during the Stoops era. Jordan Jones and Josh Allen are new starters this year and both have played very well. One could even argue that Jones could be a first team All-SEC player. Jones is the weakside linebacker while Allen plays on the strong side for UK. Weakside linebackers have given UofL fits for a few years now and Jones is one of the best in the SEC. Jones leads the team in tackles with 90 and tackles for loss with 12. Stoops and D.J. Eliot had to watch the Houston game with smiles on their faces because they get an extended week to figure out how to replicate some of the things that the Cougars did. That is, if they're worth their paychecks. Allen leads the team in sacks this year and he could really cause some issues for the Louisville offensive line because he is a long guy that comes off the edge well.
Courtney Love and Denzel Ware round out the group with Ware being the guy that slides down to the line when needed. Ware is a good pass rusher but I do wonder how he handles being one of the guys responsible for containing Lamar Jackson. Ware isn't really a fluid player and doesn't change direction all that well. He's more of an effort guy with above average speed as opposed to being a guy that can bend or turn and run. Ware will likely be an issue as a pass rusher, though. Louisville's tackles haven't blocked anyone lately but they really struggle against guys that can run well. These guys might not be overly talented but they all have made plays this season. That's not something that UK has had since Avery Williamson and Danny Trevathian were there. Louisville has to attack these guys and not sit back and wait to see what they're going to do like they did with Houston's exceptional linebackers.
The secondary for Kentucky is much improved. We won't likely see Louisville receivers picking on insanely overmatched cornerbacks like we did when DeVante Parker was here. They also have another year under their belt, so they should handle Louisville's passing attack better than they did last year. Chris Westry and Derrick Baity are both about the same size as UofL's tallest receivers and both have been solid players since becoming true freshman starters last year. Westry is the better player, in my opinion, but Westry has made more plays this year as he leads the team in picks. Some of that might be due to teams avoiding Westry, but I haven't seen that in the games I've watched. Either way, both players are capable of hanging with UofL's receivers and making it harder for Lamar Jackson to find an open receiver.
Mike Edwards was once a UofL recruit that I personally really wanted the staff to land. He seemed like a UofL lean but he ended up signing with UK and he's developed into a pretty good safety for the Wildcats. Edwards is on the smaller side but he's still second on the team with 87 tackles to go along with 8 PBUs. Edwards can handle slot receivers and tight ends in coverage as well as playing deep zone. He is the type of player that should be able to make a play on Jackson in the open field which bodes well for UK. His partner at safety is Marcus McWilsonwho is a veteran player who knows the rivalry well and should be a solid player for the Cats. Blake McCain mans the nickel spot and will be called upon to help contain the edge like Ware. McCain is another veteran player but UK hasn't stopped a running quarterback at all this year so I don't know how that would change against the best of all of them.
KEY PLAYERS: DE/OLB Denzel Ware, WLB Jordan Jones, SLB Josh Allen, SS Mike Edwards
Excitement Level: 9.1
Sure, this would be higher is Louisville were 10-1 and shooting to keep its CFP dreams alive, but it's still Kentucky, dammit. And the lasting memory of the entire 2016 season is still on the line, dammit.
Game Attire: Jeans, black Louisville pullover under Red Louisville jacket, gloves, grey Louisville hat
Going with pretty much the same outfit I wore two years ago, although it's not supposed to be quite as chilly. Always feel like you have to sport the red for the rivalry game.
Pregame Meal: Beer, Thanksgiving leftovers, breakfast food
I think it's pretty much every couple/man/woman for themselves at the tailgate this week. The holiday makes it hard.
Bold Prediction: Louisville leads 14-0
It's pretty bold after the last few weeks.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Cerise (It's happening)
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Legitimately just find any person who supports Kentucky athletics on Twitter and that should do the trick.
--Louisville enters this year's Battle for the Governor's Cup having won five consecutive games over Kentucky, the longest winning streak in the modern era of the rivalry, which began in 1994.
--The team that has rushed for more yards has won 19 of the last 20 meetings in this series. The Wildcats won the battle on the ground in 2014, but still lost the game, 44-40.
--In 12 of the last 16 years, the leading rusher on the victorious team has out-rushed the entire losing squad.
--Louisville has won nine consecutive games at home.
--Under Bobby Petrino, the Cardinals are 36-4 al-time at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
--Kentucky is bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season.
--UK has 2,666 rushing yards this season, the most since 1976 (2,960).
--Kentucky is currently 17th nationally and third in the SEC in rushing offense (242.4 yards per game).
--In seven years at the helm of the Cardinals, Petrino's team have lost consecutive games only three times (2003 and twice last season). The Cardinals are 12-3 in games following a loss under Petrino's guidance.
--The team that has scored first has gone on to win 12 of the last 15 times these two have met. The three exceptions are the 2011 game, when Louisville overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win 24-17, and the last two seasons, both of which were also won by U of L.
--Louisville leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense. Through 11 games, the Cards have totaled 6,144 yards of total offense and 506 points — marking only the second team in school history to record over 6,000 yards of total offense and 500 points in the same season.
--Louisville is 34-4 under Bobby Petrino when winning the turnover battle. The Cardinals have lost the turnover battle in six of their 11 games this season, but have gone 5-1 in those games.
--Louisville is 11-1 in November home games under Bobby Petrino.
--Louisville is 5-1 al-time on Nov. 26, including a 3-0 mark in games played at home. This is the first time the Cards have played a game on this date since becoming bowl eligible with a 40-13 win at Rutgers in 2010.
--Kentucky is 40-197-5 all-time against ranked opponents.
--The team that has produced the least turnovers has won 13 of the last 17 meetings in this series.
--The favorite is 14-8 straight up in the modern era of the series.
--Home teams are just 10-12 in the modern era of the series.
--Louisville has won 15 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, but has received to start 10 of its 11 games this season. The lone exception came in the Cards' 32-25 win at Virginia.
--This will be the eighth time that Louisville has owned a national ranking heading into its game with Kentucky. The Wildcats have never been ranked in the top 25 when playing Louisville.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 210 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 176-10 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-102 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points. One of those five wins came two seasons ago against Kentucky.
--Bobby Petrino is 6-0 against Kentucky as Louisville's head coach.
--"Ever since the first time I've been here it's been unique, for me, because, you actually have people in your neighborhood who are Kentucky fans, you know. When I first got here I thought, man, this is really weird. It used to upset me. I'd get mad, tell my kids to egg their windows. Whatever. Actually I didn't tell them that, but I wanted to." --Bobby Petrino
--"It'll be big for me, first time in this Louisville versus them game. It'll be a challenge." --Lonnie Galloway
--"I like those guys. I like the coaches on the staff. I like the players, it's just a ball game we're going to have to face each other. I'll shake hands before the game and I'll shake hands after the game. It is what it is. Life is going to go on regardless." --Kentucky wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas
--"We need to play our best football against Louisville. They are a very good football team, as you know. They are very well-coached and talented across the board. There really is not a weakness on that team. . . . (Petrino) obviously is a great play caller. There's no doubt about that. What stands out when you look at all the success he's had, there is a lot of offense there and you can see how well they do in the second half of a lot of games. They score a lot of points." --Mark Stoops
--"We're just focused on whippin' them. That's all it is. We don't talk about it, we're just going to go out there and do it." --Cole Hikutini
--"The other guy I used to work for wasn't as good as this one." --Lamar Thomas
--"I don't think they care too much for us, and the feeling's mutual." --Lonnie Galloway
--"These two years have done so much for me, so I'm going to put everything out there on Saturday. Every senior knows this is our last home game, and we all hate UK." --Cole Hikutini
--"We all understand that hey we've got to get off the ground, get ready for a game. We've got to have a great attitude, approach practice properly. Approach our preparation properly and come out and have one more time with our seniors in our home stadium." --Bobby Petrino
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 40, Kentucky 20