In a dream season in Lexington, it would be easy for the Kentucky Wildcats to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor with an 8-3 record, a Top 25 ranking, and a 5-3 winning record in the brutal SEC with a season finale date with a struggling 2-9 Louisville Cardinal team.
No pressure, right? Well, you would be wrong. Bad wrong.
In this season that many devout Kentucky football fans have waited so patiently for, the very last thing that needs to happen is the Wildcats to overlook the Cardinals Saturday afternoon.
There are several variables in this matchup that could go against the Cats. Get three or four of the following in play against UK and all of a sudden what could be a convincing Cat victory for the Governor’s Cup become very skittish. Think about it.
First, Louisville is a team in turmoil. Coach Bobby Petrino and most of the offensive staff were shown the door a couple of weeks ago. It was apparent Petrino had lost the team after mega-blowout losses to Clemson and others. The Cards are finishing their season under an interim coach before a new coach is hired in the River City (paging Jeff Brohm?)
In many instances, a team with this type of turnover is very hard to plan for. Will the Cards run the system they had for most of the season or will they go off script and run some special type of package that no one has seen? Will the players play like they have something to prove or will they play like they’re ready for the season to be over? Some things to think about for Kentucky.
Next, UK isn’t exactly clicking on all cylinders as it prepares to travel up Interstate 64 to play the reeling Cards. It’s no secret that the Cats have had their struggles on offense for most of the season. Since the second half of the South Carolina game, they have seemingly spun their tires in the mud offensively.
As teams have loaded up the line of scrimmage to stop Benny Snell Jr and the Kentucky run game, the Cats' passing game led by Terry Wilson has been spotty at best. While Wilson has had a high completion percentage, many of the throws he is making are either screen passes or short passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
U of L will do what many teams have done to stop the Cats' rushing game and force Wilson to put the ball in the air. His ability to either stretch the Cards defense or not could be the deciding factor in this game.
Last, and probably most importantly, do the Wildcats have it in the tank to finish this season with a win and set themselves up for a New Year’s Day bowl invitation? In my opinion, the Wildcat football program hasn’t come this far to only come this far. You know the team has heard all the accolades and how they have turned the football program’s fortunes around. That’s good stuff without a doubt.
But the season isn’t over by any means. Kentucky has two more dates to either make history and win the Cup, win a New Year’s game, and win 10 games overall for the first time in 41 years or lose in a monumental upset in Louisville and back into a bowl game with a bad taste in their mouth and have a disappointing end to their once magical season.
So don’t tell me or the Cats there’s nothing to worry about Saturday. You would be wrong. Bad wrong.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist located in Speedwell, Tenn. You can follow Shane on Facebook, on Twitter @shack_daddy_1, or on his website Coach Shack’s Corner at www.wixsite.com/coachshackscorner. He can also be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.