The last week of the regular season is upon us and the Cards finish the year against a common foe in the Wildcats of Kentucky. While this game is always circled on the calendar the hype has been taken up a notch the last few weeks as both teams feel fairly confident in their ability to bring home the Governor’s Cup in 2021. Since I refuse to watch Kentucky football under my own free will I need some help in figuring out just what we can expect this weekend from the Cats. I reached out to Chris Fisher from ‘The Cats Pause’ and he was kind enough to answer my questions and avoid making any Louisville jokes. A winner in my book. Let’s jump right in.
While most Louisville fans have complained about the roller coaster of emotions this football season has provided, those are typically smaller peaks and valleys through the course of the year. Kentucky on the other hand was climbing higher and higher for weeks on end, and anticipation kept growing with each victory....only to see the dig drop happen in painful fashion over the last month or so. While it’s never smart to complain about 8+ win seasons I assume there is still a bit of frustration with what many likely view as a missed opportunity to take another step in conference. How will this season be viewed overall, understanding Saturday may play a big factor in that?
There’s certainly a segment of Kentucky fans that are frustrated by missing out on what could have been a once-and-a-lifetime type of season by finishing 11-1 with the lone loss coming to top-ranked Georgia on the road. But the bottom line is that both Mississippi State and Tennessee were both much better than originally expected, UK has eight regular season wins for just the fourth time in 44 years and still has a look at 10 wins including the bowl game. Most fans sound in mind and expectation aren’t apologizing for that nor should they.
To me, Saturday vs. Louisville, who like Mississippi State and Tennessee have gotten better and better as the season has gone along, is a season-defining game and I think that’s totally fair.
When I think of Kentucky football as of late I usually think heavy dependency on the run game behind a strong offensive line. While QB Will Levis has helped balance that attack, I think the sentiment still holds fairly true that Rodriguez and Smoke will still be a big factor and the line is still very impressive in the trenches. What’s your take on the offense thus far, any glaring holes Louisville can look to take advantage of?
This Kentucky offense is much more balanced, explosive and entertaining than it’s been in many, many years, sporting a 1,000-yard rusher (Chris Rodriguez) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Wan’Dale Robinson) in the same season for the first time since 2007.
The Wildcats will take some shots down the field but everything works off of the run game and based on what Mark Stoops has said this week, I would expect UK to pound the rock and capitalize on its size advantage up front. Controlling the clock also keeps Malik Cunningham and Co. off the field, which is just as important.
Since Stoops arrived at Kentucky, what feels like decades ago when reflecting upon typical tenures for college coaches, the emphasis was defense and the Cats have been pretty successful in fielding solid teams on that side of the ball over the last few years. This year it seems like they have taken a step back, at least statistically. Are we in a bridge year of sorts with transfers/freshman or is this just a down year comparatively speaking?
I think it’s fair to say the defense has taken a step back this season based on what we’ve seen in recent years, but that’s to be expected after losing eight players to the NFL Draft over the last three seasons. Injuries to Marquan McCall and Jordan Wright along the defensive line have also hurt the pass rush this season.
But Kentucky’s pass defense has not only been a disappointment, it has become a major issue in the second half of the season. UK was very thin in the secondary and it’s shown over the past few games.
A painful topic which you have likely already hit on above is turnovers. Kentucky is holding onto the ball about as well as fans can hold onto a stripper joke around Louisville fans. It’s coming out whether they like it or not. What’s been the big issue this year with ball security, putting the Cats last in the SEC and second to last (129th) in all of FBS?
One on hand, you could make the argument that the Wildcats should be 11-1 this season. On the other, you could argue they’re lucky to be 8-3 because of its turnover margin, which ranks next to last nationally at -13.
The two main culprits have been quarterback Will Levis (12 INTs) and Chris Rodriguez (6 fumbles). Some of Levis’ interceptions are a by-product of being aggressive, some of them just the natural maturation of a young quarterback. Most of Rodriguez’ have come while fighting for extra yards, especially around the goal line, where he’s fumbled inside the 5 three times.
Like with most of Kentucky’s games this season, Saturday’s outcome could very well be determined by whether the Wildcats take care of the football.
Alright Chris, for about three months I heard how bad Kentucky was going to dust this Louisville team, and then they came back to earth a bit after dropping three straight. Louisville on the other hand has looked much better on both sides of the ball the last few weeks, albeit against lesser competition, but it feels like things are moving in the right direction. Earlier this week the odds makers actually favored the Cards by anywhere from 2-3 points for the Saturday night matchup here in the “potentially dangerous” city of Louisville. How do you think the 2021 edition of ‘The Governors Cup’ plays out?
I think Kentucky is the better team overall but Louisville will have the best player on the field in Malik Cunningham. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that the spread hasn’t meant much in this rivalry.
If UK takes care of the ball, I think they do enough offensively to win the game. If not, the game could get away from them in a hurry and this team has not played well from behind this season, particularly with an offense that is predicated on running the football.
Big thanks again to Chris for stopping by and helping us learn a bit more about the 2021 Cats. If you want to check in on how they are prepping the next couple days you can follow Chris right here and the site right here over on twitter. This is a big one folks. A win in the rivalry and a bowl win would get the Cards to eight wins with four in a row to closeout a season that was extremely frustrating early on. Lets end 2021 in the proper way and restore some normalcy to the program by beating Kentucky. Go Cards.