For about twenty minutes last Saturday, everything Kentucky football had worked for was in jeopardy. Sure, Austin Peay was an FCS team with a 28-game losing streak. But they had outgained the Wildcats on the ground, returned a Luke Wright interception for a touchdown, and they led 13-0. Not to fear. Kentucky awakened from a nap and ran away with a 49-13 win, clinching the Cats’ first bowl appearance since 2010.
Next up is a chance at a signature win. Lamar Jackson may win the Heisman Trophy and Louisville looked headed for a CFP Final Four spot until they gagged up last week’s game at Houston, 36-10. But Kentucky is a nearly four- touchdown underdog Saturday in Papa John’s Stadium, and there’s no question that a win would help Mark Stoops’s case in re-establishing Kentucky football as a player on the national stage. Can the Cats do it?
WHERE WE ARE
Again, Kentucky is bowl bound for the first time since 2010, and the Wildcats will have to chances to guarantee their first winning season of the decade. Kentucky started slow against Austin Peay, but when banged-up QB Stephen Johnson entered the game in the second quarter, the script was flipped. Johnson hit a couple of gorgeous deep passes to Jeff Badet and Garrett Johnson, and Benny Snell rushed for 152 yards, pushing him over 1,000 yards for the season—which along with Boom Williams eclipsing that mark against Tennessee, means Kentucky has a pair of 1,000 yard rushers for the first time in their history.
Kentucky’s defense was very spotty—missing some plays on read option calls and QB runs early in the game. To say that this week will require a cleaner effort from the Wildcats would be an understatement.
WHO THEY ARE
Louisville is one of the best teams in the nation. The Cardinals average 46 points per game, and QB Lamar Jackson has passed for 3,109 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,367 yards and 19 scores. WR James Quick is one of several big-play threats for the Cardinals, who have four different receivers with over 500 receiving yards on the season.
Defensively, Louisville is holding opponents to under 100 yards per game rushing. LB James Hearns, once a Kentucky commit, leads the Cardinals with eight sacks. DB Jaire Alexander has five interceptions.
Louisville lost twice this year—barely at Clemson early, and in last week’s thumping at Houston. The Cougars harassed Jackson from the outset, sacking him 11 times, and forcing a ton of Cardinal penalties. Maybe Kentucky will attempt some of the same things.
WHAT TO EXPECT
This game is usually closer than expected, and I don’t think this year is any different. Louisville hasn’t seen many teams with a physical running attack like UK, which will keep the ‘Cats in the game. If only Kentucky had a couple more athletes in their defensive front seven who could keep heat on Jackson, they could perhaps pull this upset. As it is, the ‘Cats will acquit themselves well, but they just won’t have an answer for Jackson.
Louisville 38, Kentucky 28
AROUND THE CONFERENCE
My current power rankings.
Texas A&M (8-3)
South Carolina (6-5)
Ole Miss (5-6)
Mississippi State (4-7)
I’m 74-27 for the season, which sounds a lot better than it is. Here’s this week’s shot at getting it right:
Texas A&M 27, LSU 17
Arkansas 42, Missouri 27
Georgia 24, Georgia Tech 17
Louisville 38, Kentucky 28
Alabama 45, Auburn 10
Mississippi State 29, Ole Miss 28
Clemson 31, South Carolina 20
Tennessee 24, Vanderbilt 21
Florida State 24, Florida 22
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books, with his most recent, Almost Perfect, to be released in February 2017. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.