A season after the gigantic upset of then-No. 11 Louisville that gave Mark Stoops’s Kentucky career its defining moment, the Kentucky Wildcats are hoping for a little of last year’s mojo. To be fair, this Louisville team isn’t as imposing as last year’s squad. They’re not sniffing the polls at all, much less No. 11. And while last season’s Heisman trophy winner, Harry-Houdini like QB Lamar Jackson, is still in town, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have as much to work with.
That said, the Wildcats looked very pedestrian in a 42-13 loss to Georgia last week. Even with that loss, Kentucky left themselves a chance at an eight-win regular season for the first time since 1984 if they could upset the Cardinals Saturday (at noon on SEC Network). Unlike last season, when U of L was favored by 27 points, this time the Cardinals are Vegas’s pick by a more approaching 9.5 or 10 points. So while Kentucky has their work cut out, they’ve handled worse circumstances.
Who Louisville Is
The 7-4 Cardinals have had a fairly disappointing season. Only once has Louisville defeated a team with a winning record, that being a 6-5 Virginia team two weeks ago. They lost to ACC middle of the pack teams like Boston College and Wake Forrest. Despite their struggles, Louisville is still an offensive power.
The Cardinals average over 38.5 points per game and 560 yards per game. Jackson probably won’t repeat as a Heisman winner, but that would likely be due to Louisville’s mediocre team performance. The junior QB has passed for 3,273 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for 1,287 yards and 17 more scores on the ground.
The Cardinals allow nearly 400 yards per game, and defensively are especially vulnerable in the red zone. Opposing offenses have reached the red zone 31 times and have cashed in 23 touchdowns and four field goals. Former Kentucky commit James Hearns leads the Cardinals in sacks with seven, and defensive back Trumaine Washington leads the team with four interceptions.
Where Kentucky Is
For probably the second time this season (the other being Mississippi State), the Wildcats were simply outclassed last Saturday. A season-ending foot injury to C.J. Conrad will leave UK thin at the tight end position, and safety Mike Edwards sustained an injury which could bother him.
Against Georgia, Kentucky had several early opportunities to deliver big plays. But a turnover deep in UGA territory became a mere field goal. A 45 yard pass play led to another field goal. A three and out turned into a UGA touchdown after UK roughed the Georgia punter. Twice, key drops caused UK to come up short. After those errors in the first half, Kentucky was simply blown off the field in the second half.
Against Louisville, Kentucky needs to cash in turnovers into touchdowns. They need to finish drives, catch a few difficult passes (think of injured WR Dorian Baker’s big end-zone grab last year in the fourth quarter), and generally play opportunistic football. If they’re struggling with remembering that, Mark Stoops can pop the video in from last season.
This Louisville defense is vulnerable to big plays. They reared their head last season. They’ve reared their head this season with Boston College, which rushed for over 350 yards on the ground, and Wake Forrest, which passed for over 450 yards. The thought here is that the Kentucky offense that showed up two weeks ago at Vanderbilt shows up, instead of the one that missed opportunities last week at Georgia.
It better, because Louisville will put up some points, too.
Kentucky 43, Louisville 42
Other SEC Games
On Rivalry Week, there are a series of great games going down. Even one Thursday and one Friday. Here’s who I’ve got:
Mississippi State 45, Ole Miss 20
Missouri 42, Arkansas 24
Florida State 24, Florida 21
Georgia 38, Georgia Tech 17
Alabama 31, Auburn 27
Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 20
LSU 31, Texas A&M 21
Clemson 42, South Carolina 21
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books. His most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games) is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at email@example.com.