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Game Day: Louisville vs. Kentucky

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Go Cards.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (2-9, 0-8) vs. No. 15 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (8-3, 5-3)

Game Time: 7 p.m.

Location: Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN2

Announcers: Kevin Brown (play-by-play) and Andre Ware (analyst)

Favorite: Kentucky by 17

All-Time Series: Tied, 15-15

Modern Series: Louisville leads, 15-9

Last Meeting: Louisville won 44-17 on Nov. 25, 2017 in Lexington

Series History:

Statistics:

About the Governor’s Cup:

The Governor’s Cup was created in 1994 as the trophy for the winner of the Louisville-Kentucky 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.

It currently resides in Louisville.

Game Day Guide:

Louisville Uniforms:

Depth Chart:

About Kentucky:

via Keith Wynne

OFFENSE

Kentucky is having one of their best seasons in the history of the program and they’re doing it with a very average offense. Eddie Gran is the first offensive coordinator to stick at Kentucky and he has probably held onto his job because the offense finally has an identity. They’re going to run the ball until you make them do something else. Gran has done well to mix up their run game but the lack of a passing attack has hurt them this year.

The passing game starts with Terry Wilson at quarterback. The JUCO transfer has had a very inconsistent year and he has been a turnover machine at times. Wilson is a dual threat guy with a big arm and breakaway speed. He is completing 67% of his passes but the offense really keeps things under 10 yards for him. Wilson also takes a lot of sacks because he holds on to the ball too long. Some of the issues he has are on him, but plenty of them are because he doesn’t have great receivers.

Benny Snell is the star of this offense with his bruising running ability. Snell has a ton of Kentucky rushing records already but he probably wants to lead this team to 10 wins. The offense does a great job of feeding Snell as he is the type of back that gets better as the game goes on. UK has also developed a second back to spell Snell. AJ Rose is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the year and the offense has been at it’s best when he gets things going as the second option in the run game. It keeps Snell a little more fresh while also giving a bit of a change of pace.

The big issue with Kentucky’s offense is the receivers being well below average. One of the reasons that Terry Wilson has issues holding onto the ball is because these guys just don’t get open enough. Lynn Bowden has double the amount of targets than the next two guys on the team. They like to use him on screens and shallow routes, so those throws are typically open. Even Bowden doesn’t get open down the field, though. This team doesn’t have anyone that can stretch the field and every defense knows it. C.J. Conrad will be a guy to look out for this week as they like to target him over the middle and UofL’s linebackers have made a few plays in the passing game recently.

The Kentucky offensive line is arguably the best they will see outside of Alabama this season. They absolutely maul people in the run game and they give Wilson plenty of time to throw the ball. Bunchy Stallings is the best of the group at right guard. He is so quick off the ball and he drives people out of holes in the run game. He is also very good when he pulls. He identifies his block well and gets his hips turned to seal off on his man. This line does everything well but defenses get to stack the box and that makes their jobs much harder.

DEFENSE

Kentucky has a chance to win ten games this year and they’re riding their defense to that win total. I did a spot on ESPN 680 this summer and I was asked about how UK could do this year and I truly saw the potential for 8 wins. The issue for this program, though, has been the absolutely abysmal play by its defenses. Mark Stoops is a former defensive coordinator and until this season his defenses have been what you would expect from an offensive guy. He’s finally figured it all out this year and his veteran group is the key to the team’s success.

The defensive line for UK has been the biggest improvement in the system. They’ve spent the last few years with guys there that were not much more than warm bodies. They’ve improved their tackle for loss number this year by 8 even with two games left. They’re making more plays but more than that, they’re being more disruptive. I’ve stressed the importance of defensive linemen not always making the play but impacting it by being disruptive. This line does a great job of that. They keep the second level players clean and those guys make a lot of plays.

You’ll get tired of hearing the name Josh Allen this week but he is one of the best players in the country and Kentucky deserves some real credit for finding him as a recruit and developing him. Allen was a two-star talent out of New Jersey and UK landed him as a filler in his recruiting class. He worked on his body once he got there and now he’s a 6-5/260 outside linebacker who has the school record for sacks. Allen plays a hybrid pass rusher role for the defense and he’s improved his skills as a zone defender against the pass and he can play the run very well. No team has figured out how to block Allen. I doubt that UofL will be the first to do so.

The new additions at linebacker are another reason why this defense has improved. Denzel Ware decided to transfer after last year and Courtney Love graduated. Boogie Watson and Kash Daniel have been much better as replacements. Watson doesn’t get the stats that Ware did but he’s a more complete player and he allows Allen to be the key pass rusher. Daniel is just miles ahead of Love as a middle linebacker. Love was a leader and I understand why they stuck with him but they did so while leaving a better player on the bench. Daniel is a really good athlete so he plays the run and the pass well. The biggest positive is that he can run down plays in the backfield. He and Jordan Jones team up very well when it comes to creating negative plays.

The Kentucky Secondary has a tendency to be boom or bust at times but they have been really solid for the most part. This defense is very opportunistic with 18 turnovers on the season. They have play makers at corner and safety and all of them make plays at all three levels of the defense. Mike Edwards and Darius West are the key guys at safety. Louisville doesn’t do anything well on offense but they have had some success running the football the last few weeks. These two guys will be the keys to stopping that run game. Both like to get up the field to make plays and they are very solid tacklers. I’d also be surprised if one of them doesn’t force a turnover or two.

Relevant Videos:

Excitement Level: 5.0

This is the first time we’ve ever been in a “nothing to lose and everything to gain” situation heading into this game, and hopefully it’s the last time we ever will be.

While removing all stress from what is typically one of the most stress-filled days of the sports year is nice, the excitement level is still struggling. If there had been one glimmer of evidence over the last two months that this potentially hilarious victory was even remotely possible, the level would be at 7.5. Obviously, there has not been, and so here we are.

Don’t get me wrong, giving up a billion points to every team under the sun would only make ruining Kentucky’s “dream season” with a lame duck coaching staff of four (or whatever it is) the most beautiful thing ever, but it has also made envisioning the scenario a near impossibility.

Game Attire: Jeans, red U of L rain jacket, grey Cardinal bird hat

The only legit U of L jacket I have is black, but you’ve gotta rock red for the rivalry game. I also think I was wearing the rain jacket for the only two games Louisville has won this season, so there’s that.

Pregame Meal: Beer, tailgate food

The tailgate has been abysmal this season for a variety of reasons (kids, radio, the team sucking ass), but we’re going to try and go out with a bang. The weather looks decent enough, the kickoff is late, and I’m done with pregame at 2:40 because the women’s basketball game is going to be on 790 before the football game. Perfect storm to at least enjoy life before the game begins.

Bold Prediction: In terms of real time, this will be the shortest game Louisville plays all season

I don’t see a whole lot of passing attempts coming from either side, so this could be a (relatively speaking) speedy four quarters. Maybe that’s for the best.

Rodjay Burns Kick/Punt Touchdown Return Alert Level: Hot Magenta (medium)

It’s a very misleading color for such a milquetoast level. But I don’t question the alert level. Even though it’s been wildly inaccurate all season.

Predicted Star of the Game: Malik Cunningham

If Louisville has any shot here, I feel like the offense is going to be 75% Cunningham running the read option with Hassan Hall and company.

Notable:

—Saturday’s game will mark the first time Kentucky has ever faced Louisville while nationally ranked (No. 15). The Cardinals have been nationally ranked for the game eight times.

—The team that has rushed for more yards has won 20 of the last 22 meetings in this series. Kentucky losing in 2014 and Louisville losing in 2016 are the two exceptions.

—A win by Kentucky would give the program its first 9-win regular season since 1977. The Wildcats haven’t won nine games in any season since 1984.

—Louisville is in the midst of its first eight-game losing streak since 1964.

—Before the game, Louisville will honor 11 seniors who will be participating in their final game as Cardinals.

—Louisville is just 5-7 against Kentucky in games played in Louisville.

—This is the first time since 2011 that Kentucky has been favored to beat Louisville. The Cardinals won that game, 24-17.

—Kentucky running back Benny Snell needs 207 yards to become the program’s all-time leading rusher.

—Kentucky ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 16.8 points per game. They also rank 24th nationally and fourth in the SEC in total defense yards per game (328.2), 38th nationally in team passing efficiency defense (120.3 rating points), and 27th in pass yards allowed (190.6)

—The Wildcat defense is led by Josh Allen, who has set a UK single-season record with 13.0 sacks to go along with 17.5 tackles for loss this season. Allen is the brother of former U of L women’s basketball standout Myisha Hines-Allen.

—In the Lorenzo Ward era, Louisville has never lost to Marquette in basketball and Kentucky in football in the same season.

—Favorites are 15-9 in the modern era of the Governor’s Cup rivalry.

—Home teams are just 10-14 in the modern era of the series.

—The team that has produced the fewest number turnovers has won 14 of the last 19 meetings in this series. There were no turnovers by either team in last year’s contest.

—Louisville is 16-54-1 all-time against ranked opponents, including 0-3 this season.

—Louisville has been outscored 191-54 in the second half of its last seven games.

—For the first time in program history, Louisville has given up 50 or more points in six games, including each of its last four. The Cardinals are one of only two power conference teams since 1869 to give up 50 or more points in four consecutive games.

—Louisville has only covered the spread one time this season, the lowest total of any of the 130 teams in the FBS.

—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 236 games dating back to a 31-0 loss to Florida State during the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

—Louisville is 183-13 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-112 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.

Quotable:

—“I think it’s all about pride. I think you can take records and throw them away. Traditionally, when two teams in the same state go against each other, it becomes a pride deal, and it’s something that you get to brag for 364 days a year if you win.” —Lorenzo Ward

—“In a rivalry game you can throw the records out the window. We’re worried about ourselves and playing the best football we can. Just finishing — like I said, I felt like our team played with a sense of urgency this past week that we’re striving for. I really liked the way we got out of the gates and started fast and really played with a great sense of urgency. We’re looking to do the same thing here this week. It’s about us and the way we play. We know what they’re capable of and how Louisville can play. They’ve shown signs of that this year.” — Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops

—“It really doesn’t matter who’s got what going into the game — the rankings or how good you are. It’s a rivalry. The teams are going to be out there, the best team is going to win.” —Kentucky RB Benny Snell

—“We take it very personal. We all know it’s a rivalry and the attention it brings to the field. We’re just going to come out with everything we have and just play for each other.” —Linwood Foy

—“You play with emotion, but don’t be emotional. Emotional is when you start getting unsportsmanlike conduct (penalties), personal fouls, fights. You’ve got to find a balance.” —Henry Famurewa

—”I think we have to play well in all phases. Turnovers are always a big key to the ballgame. If we get turnovers, then you give your offense more opportunities to put points on the board. We can also get turnovers and score ourselves, so it’ll be crucial for us to get turnovers in this ballgame because they’re really, really good on defense.” —Lorenzo Ward

—“Anytime you’re in a major city like Louisville, and then you have Lexington right up the road, so, you’ve got to figure that it’s got to be a heated rivalry. And then, being in the game last year, it’s definitely a heated rivalry. There’s no love lost between the teams, I think.” —Lorenzo Ward

Card Chronicle Prediction: Kentucky 34, Louisville 9