The twelfth and final regular season football game for the Cards is upon us, and what better way to close it out than to take on your “warm and welcoming” rival from the east, the Kentucky Wildcats. For those who haven’t kept up with Kentucky football each week (proudly raises hand), they are putting a major emphasis on the ground game because they currently have a WR playing quarterback. They have some talented backs, a solid defense, and still love throwing the “L’s Down” even when Louisville isn’t involved in the game....thats it. You’re pretty much caught up.
This week I got to talk with Chris Fisher from over at ‘CatsPause’ about the Wildcats and their crazy season thus far. I refrained (mostly) from ‘rivaling’ as Chris is one of the good guys on that side of the aisle who enjoys long walks on the beach, cozying up to a good book, and answering my amazing questions. For the last time in the regular season...let’s do it.
Chris, the Cats are coming off one of their best seasons in quite some time, finishing 2018 with 10 wins under their belt. Losing plenty on the defensive side of the ball and one of the better backs they’ve had recently (Snell) I think a small drop-off was not only acceptable but expected by many. Has this season gone as you anticipated thus far or did you hope the momentum in 2018 would carry over a bit more?
It’s impossible to judge Kentucky’s season without taking injuries into account. Not only did the Wildcats lose the national defensive player of the year in Josh Allen, all-time leading rusher in Benny Snell, the second-winningest senior class in school history and its entire starting secondary, UK lost its starting safety, starting quarterback and backup quarterback to injuries. You don’t end up playing a wide receiver at quarterback without some really bad luck in the injury department.
Yes, Kentucky left some meat on the bone with close losses to Florida and Tennessee, but given what this team lost from last season and the adversity its faced this season and basically having to change its entire identity midway through the season, I think making a bowl game has to be considered a success by any statistical measure and I doubt you’ll find any UK fan that would say different.
I’m sure you’ve been hit with a variation of this question the last few weeks, but Kentucky appears to have zero threat of a passing game with Lynn Bowden Jr taking over at the QB position. In the last five games Bowden has only completed 18 passes on 45 attempts, and that includes contests against Tennessee Martin and Vanderbilt. While we all know it’s more challenging than just throwing eight guys in the box it’s still surprising the success they have had with such a single-minded approach. How have they been putting up big numbers on the ground when teams know what they are trying to do?
It has been equal parts impressive and fun to watch how Kentucky has steamrolled teams with the run game with Lynn Bowden at quarterback. As predictable as it is, it’s been equally futile trying to stop it.
Obviously, Bowden is a tremendous athlete but is also a lot tougher to bring down than his size would indicate. I also credit offensive coordinator Eddie Gran for the variation in the run game and for disguising what they want to do out of it.
Anytime you utilize the quarterback run, the numbers are on your side. You’re going to get one on one matchups and Kentucky has the athletes to make defenders miss. When you also take into account an offensive line that’s considered one of the best in the country and is a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, it makes a lot of sense.
Some rumors where circulating last week about Mark Stoops returning to Florida State, the school where he made a name for himself. As an outsider I thought that was a bit of a reach by FSU. For a guy who follows the team closely, if that move happened, how are you feeling right now? You happy with what Stoops has done or okay with him moving on?
I think you have to applaud the job that Mark Stoops has done. Last season, he won 10 games for just the third time in school history and first time in 41 years. Four straight bowl appearances is the second-longest streak in school history. Those are no small feats for a school that doesn’t have a lot of football tradition to speak of.
While the Wildcats have been much-improved in recent years and steadily building, I think the program’s best days are still to come. Kentucky doesn’t lose much after this season, has a lot of young talent in the program, were able to redshirt all 18 of its freshmen and are on pace to sign the highest-ranked recruiting class of the Stoops era. That’s probably where his departure would have been felt the most.
Keeping a focus on coaches, what does an outsider such as yourself think of the work Mr. Satterfield has done so far. We making too big a deal out of the quick turnaround or do you have some concern that he may in fact be an actual miracle worker?
Not taking anything away from the job Scott Satterfield has done this season, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Louisville would be much better than advertised. There was a lot of talent in the program but let’s face it, it was clear and evident that the players quit on the previous regime last season, and who could blame them? The fact that Satterfield got those guys playing hard again was half the battle.
On the defensive side of the ball the Cats have continued to have success, currently fielding a Top 25 defense in terms of yards allowed. Who are a couple guys on that side of the ball that will be crucial in trying to stop the Card’s offensive attack?
It really is a total team effort at all three levels in terms of Kentucky’s defense and it’s a unit that isn’t nearly as dominant as last season’s group but one that has just gotten incrementally better every week they take the field.
Defensive end Calvin Taylor is tied for the SEC lead with 7.5 sacks and can be a major disruptor in the backfield. I think UK’s defensive line consisting of Taylor, Boogie Watson and Josh Paschal, isn’t talked about nearly enough and is much better than they get credit for.
Because it’s rivalry week a lot of people probably expect us to throw some trash talk at each other, even poke fun at our misfortunes. I’m not cut like that Chris. I’ll leave that type of stuff the Chad’s, Kyle’s, and Evans. Ville folk ain’t all that bad, Chris. What a great opportunity to show others we can rise above the noise.
As a Louisville native myself, I try not to concern myself with things that happen outside the white lines. That said, Scott Satterfield and Chris Mack are far less hatable (dare I say likable?) than previous head coaches that shall remain nameless.
Alright, at the time I’m typing this the Cats are three point favorites at home, which basically puts us in “pick em” land, with either team capable of walking out with the ‘W’. I don’t know the stats off hand (update: Thanks Mike) but this has to be one of the closer spreads in quite some time as the contest in the past have always been a fairly lopsided spread one way or the other. This of course likely means someone will win by 30. How do you see what appears to be a play-in game for the ‘Music City Bowl’ coming out of the wash?
As the late, great Gorilla Monsoon used to say, this is shaping up to be the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. The Louisville offense feasts on explosive plays and the Kentucky defense has been very effective at preventing those. Whoever holds the edge in that category should have a huge advantage.
To me, the biggest X-factor in this game is if Louisville can get off to a fast start, score some points, force the Wildcats to play from behind and make some throws down the field. With the way UK runs the ball, controls the clock and plays defense, that’s easier said than done.
At times this season Kentucky has been susceptible in the run game so if the Cardinals can get Javian Hawkins cranked up, it could be a long day.
Thanks again to Chris. This is usually where I say you can follow him here and check out his website here, but if I was a betting man I doubt Chris is picking up many followers from the ‘Card Chronicle’ faithful, sorry buddy.
It’s been another fun year on the old Q&A front. Hopefully you all enjoyed the series this season and the nonsense it encompassed. Keep your eye out for a ‘Bowl Game Q&A’ as I introduce an unsuspecting foe to our crazy little world here at CC. Now let’s go beat the brakes off Kentucky.