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2016 University of Louisville football preview: Kentucky Wildcats

The Cards will host the Cats during rivalry week.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images


2015 Record



Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri, Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte


Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Louisville

Series leader: Tied (14-14)

Louisville tied the all-time series up with Kentucky by beating them for 5 straight years from 2011-2015. From the looks of it, the Cards are going to make it 6 straight years with U of L appearing to have an incredibly talented team.

In last year’s game against UK, the Cards went down to Lexington and won comfortably 38-24. Bobby Petrino was in a pretty giving mood as he gave Stoops and the Cats a 21-point head start before he decided to let Lamar Jackson loose. Jackson would only throw for 130 yards, but torched UK’s defense to the tune of 186 rushing yards on 17 carries. He averaged 10.9 yards per carry and found the end zone twice on the ground and once through the air, tossing a touchdown pass to James Quick.

Kentucky’s Drew Barker had a rough time in the game with a QBR of 16.7, completing just 6 passes on 22 attempts. The Louisville defense held the Cats to under 100 yards rushing with a 2.5 yards per carry on the day. Kentucky would do all of their damage in the first half as they would be shutout in the 2nd half while Louisville went on a scoring frenzy.

Season Recap

Kentucky’s 2015 season was pretty par for the course as they went 5-7 and once again didn’t go to a bowl. The Wildcats would have signature wins over the mighty Ragin’ Cajuns, a South Carolina team that Steve Spurrier abandoned in the middle of the season, a Missouri team that was distracted with off the field issues, along with Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte. They would enter the game against Louisville with a record of 5-6 needing just one win to make it to a bowl game.

They would not make it to that bowl game.

Coach Resume

Mark Stoops took over the Kentucky program in 2013 after spending a few years as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. While at Florida State, the Seminoles had one of the best defenses in the nation under Stoops. When he got to Kentucky, he generated a lot of buzz and excitement in the program. That started to show as a lot of good football recruits started taking an interest in the Cats and in 2014 he signed a top 25 class according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. None of it would show on the field; Stoops is 12-24 overall in his first three years in Lexington.

Returning Starters

Kentucky will be returning 14 starters, but nine of those are on the offensive side of the ball. Four out of the five starters along the offensive line will be coming back. They will be paving the way for running backs Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, and Mikel Horton. The Cats will return a trio of wide receivers in Jeff Badet, Garrett Johnson, and Dorian Baker. As sophomores, they combined for 130 receptions, 1,732 yards, and 7 touchdowns. They do lose starting quarterback Patrick Towles, who transferred to Boston College after graduating from UK, but Drew Barker does have some playing experience from 2015.

The defense takes the biggest hit with having to replace a lot of starting talent. They return just one full-time starter in the front seven. They dismissed outside linebacker Jason Hatcher back in February after he was arrested for marijuana related charges. They will add a couple transfers in Courtney Love (transferred from Nebraska) and De’Niro Laster (Minnesota). Love is being tabbed as the leader of a defense that will need one, especially in a linebacker group that will have a lot of inexperience. Most of the strength of this defense will be in the secondary, where the Cats bring back most of the two-deep.

Returning QB

Starter Patrick Towles decided to leave Lexington and head to Boston College via the graduate transfer rule. In steps Drew Barker. Barker was a composite 4-star prospect and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He held offers from Louisville, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Miami, and Mississippi State, but decided to stay in the state and commit to Kentucky. He saw some action last year playing in 5 games. He threw 35 completions on 70 attempts for 364 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed the ball 25 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. With an offensive line that is returning 4 out of its 5 starters, a stable of good running backs, and a trio of experienced wide receivers, Barker will have plenty of tools around him to be successful.

Biggest problem

The linebacker group is going to be pretty bad. They only return 0.5 sacks, 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1 broken up pass from last year. There will be a couple of transfers who will be eligible to play this year after sitting out 2015. As mentioned earlier, Courtney Love is being called one of the new leaders on the defense. However, as a redshirt freshman at Nebraska in 2014, Love totaled just 6 tackles that season.

Biggest Strength

Going to go out on a limb a bit here and say that the passing game is going to be a strength of this team. You wouldn’t expect it as last year’s team was 79th in the nation in passing offense (209.3 yards per game). However, both the starting quarterback (Patrick Towles) and offensive coordinator (Shannon Dawson) are gone. Kentucky will bring in new co-offensive coordinators from Cincinnati in Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. Last year, Cincinnati ranked 6th in the nation in passing offense with 359.9 yards per game. That, along with the potential of Drew Barker behind a sturdy offensive line and a trio of experienced receivers, brings in a lot of optimism around the offensive side of the ball that is going to have to carry an inexperienced defense.

4 players to remember

Boom Williams: Led the team in rushing last year, he’ll help get the offense started at the beginning of the game in a hostile environment.

Dorian Baker: A big receiver (6’3” and 208 lbs) who should really benefit from a new offensive scheme that focuses on airing out the ball. By the time this game comes around, the new passing game should be clicking.

Courtney Love: Eligible to play this year after sitting out last year, he’s being called as a new leader on defense in a position group where there’s barely any experience coming back. He’ll have to help lead a defense that will try and figure out a way to stop Lamar and the Cards.

Chris Westry: Westry played in 12 games last year as a freshman where he grabbed two interceptions, but also broke up eight passes.

Final Thoughts

Not worried.