It’s been quite a ride the last couple months following this Cardinal football team, and while you never want to put too much emphasis on one game, this one is a big one. Can the Cards keep the positive momentum rolling and finally get back on top of the inner-state rival or do they hit a bit of a road bump on the way to postseason play and entering one of the most watched early sinning day periods probably in the history of the program? We’ll find out soon enough.
This week I reached out to Chris Fisher with ‘The Cat’s Pause’ to talk about what's been going on with the Kentucky program and what he thinks will happen when the two teams square off later today. We’ve waited twelve weeks...lets get right into it.
Before the season began the Kentucky quarterback, Will Levis, was projected as not only a first round pick in the NFL Draft, but by some the #1 QB coming off the board. Hand up, I have not kept up with every UK game this year, but it appears the offense is not in great shape. What happened?
It’s just been one of those seasons for the Wildcats in 2022 where if something could go wrong, it has. Kentucky was without starting running back Chris Rodriguez for four games, lost backup Ramon Jefferson for the year on his second carry of the season, and have been absolutely plagued by protection and special teams issues all year long. While Will Levis has not performed to expectations as a potential top 10 pick, he’s also suffered various foot, finger, and shoulder injuries after being sacked 34 times this season. Levis, whose best playmakers at wide receiver also happen to be true freshmen, has been the least of UK’s problems and hasn’t been aided by the issues going on around him.
Through September it appeared as if Kentucky was staring down the barrel of a ten win season, arguably one of the better seasons in quite some time out of Lexington, and the ‘football school’ narrative was likely going to be on t-shirts, and prominently displayed across various social media accounts. But then something happened, and the Cats are posted up at 6-5 with one chance to finish the regular season above .500. Was it just offense woes? What else happened that Louisville might be able to take advantage of?
The defense has more than pulled its weight but Kentucky just hasn’t been able to stay out of its own way offensively this season. Fans were expecting a relatively seamless transition at offensive coordinator from Liam Coen to Rich Scangarello but it has been anything but. Aside from relatively unimaginative play-calling, UK has had issues blocking and protecting all season long, leading to negative plays and turnovers, especially in the red zone, that have halted potential scoring opportunities.
In years past Kentucky has done more work on the ground in Louisville than MSD, and Levis, Rodriguez, Smoke, etc have had their way against a soft front from the Cards. While it appears the Louisville defense has had an awakening of sorts, do you still expect the battle in the trenches to be one sided and open up the run game for Kentucky?
I would expect another ground-heavy attack from Chris Rodriguez and Co. on Saturday. That approach seems to have worked against the Cardinals in recent years, where the Wildcats have averaged 335 rushing yards and 7.6 yards per carry while scoring 22 rushing touchdowns over the last five meetings. The good news for Kentucky is that Will Levis has looked much healthier and more mobile over the last two games and could be a much bigger factor in the run game, where he rushed for a career-high 113 yards and four scores against Louisville a year ago.
Not sure if this is known publicly, but the 2022-23 college basketball season was actually canceled, and all games moving forward are just glorified scrimmages. None of it counts for anything and it’s all just to let the kids have some fun. A nice gesture from the NCAA. For the scrimmage between these two said schools later in the year, how do you think that game, while not counting for anything officially, and strictly for entertainment purposes only, will play out?
I think it’s entirely too early to tell. While Louisville’s 0-6 start and struggles under Kenny Payne have been well-documented, Kentucky has had issues of its own both offensively and defensively, having lost both of its marquee matchups to this point in Michigan State and Gonzaga. With the game still over a month away, I think we’ll learn more about both of these teams in the coming weeks.
The trajectory of the two teams playing on Saturday appear to be going in opposite directions, and if the Cards were playing a team with anything other than ‘Kentucky’ across their chest I’d feel pretty good about the potential outcome. Unfortunately, it is Kentucky, it is a rivalry, and the home team has had their way in this game in recent memory. How do you feel coming into this one? How does it play out?
It definitely feels like these two teams have been heading in opposite directions since the midway point of the season, with Louisville having won five of its last six and Kentucky having lost five of its last seven. But, you’re right, it’s a rivalry and one the Wildcats have dominated in recent years, winning the last three meetings by an average of 36.3 points per game. I think this one, as they often do, comes down to turnovers. This UK team has had issues blocking and protecting and they’re facing an attacking UofL defense that loves to create havoc and force turnovers. If Kentucky takes care of the ball, I give them a slight advantage being at home but I’m not sure there’s an outcome of this game that would surprise me.
A big thanks to Chris for his time. Check him out here on twitter and check out ‘The Cat’s Pause’ to keep up with how that team down the road is doing.....and no offense, but I hope they are doing horrible. If you’re interested in jumping into the network of sites over at 247 they have a Black Friday special going on right now you can check out.
There is no beating around it. A win today would put the Cards at eight regular season wins and include two wins over ranked teams at the time of the game and a win over your rival. We’d be damn near full blown Vance Bedford ‘train mode’ heading into 2023 and I really like the sound of that. The last few games in the series give me caution to pick the Cards but that defense I think is good for 2-3 turnovers which hopefully help decide it. Lets get this rivalry back on track. Go Cards!