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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals: Good Luck, Charlie Edition

Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton will be given every opportunity to shine as the 'Cats and Cards hook-up in the battle for the Governor's Cup.
Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton will be given every opportunity to shine as the 'Cats and Cards hook-up in the battle for the Governor's Cup.

Brother against brother; father against son; husband against wife.  When the 'Cats and Cards hook-up on either the gridiron or the hardwood, many families occupy a house divided.  One side blue, the other red.  Like a divorced couple refusing to leave their shared premises, a clear line of distinction is drawn.  In this good guys (see: men in blue) versus bad guys (see: men in red) rivalry, heated to the point of percolation, fans cling to the righteousness of their cause, while pointing an accusatory finger at the unwelcome killjoy pilfering their karma.  It's Democrats and Republicans, one vilifying the other with over-the-top propaganda, while at the same time touting their side to be pure as the preacher's sheets.

It's comical in a way, but that's simply the nature of rivalries.  And this rivalry, pitting flagship school versus commuter school, is made all the more passionate by the mere proximity of the two universities, and the fact that the off-the-field combatants are co-workers, family members, and neighbors.  Bragging rights, bah!  It goes beyond that.  This rivalry is personal. 

This year, with both the 'Cats and Cards stumbling out of the gate, the game has taken on added importance.  For Kentucky, the need to reclaim their missing five-year feel good mojo, and gather some confidence before the advent of a brutally demanding SEC slate, and for Louisville, the need to show they belong in Division I football, and not Pop Warner, as many partisans in Blue are wont to propagate.

Quite apparently, both head coaches, caused by the pressures of fielding a competent team, are feeling the heat to win.  It was UofL coach Charlie Strong, though, whose team, against similar competition, averages 167 more yards per game than UK, who came off looking the more desperate of the two with his, we-don't-belong-on-the-same-field-as-UK red-stained, reverse psychology rhetoric.  Nice try Charlie, but no dice on the Lou Holtz motivational retread.   

Now, getting past the nonsense, we'll begin our look at the two teams by taking a peak at some miscellaneous rivalry stats (only since the game was renewed in 1994 after a 70 year cease-fire).

Series Lead: Louisville 9-8.

Average Score: Louisville 30, Kentucky 26.

Biggest Wins: Louisville -- 1999 56-28, 2004 28-0, 2006 59-28: Kentucky -- 1998 68-34, 2008 27-2.

Games played at Commonwealth Stadium: Louisville leads 6-4 (UK has won two in a row in Lexington).

Average score at Commonwealth: Louisville 31, Kentucky 24.

Longest winning Streak: Kentucky (4) 2007-2010, Louisville (4) 2003-2006.

The Key Cardinals

UofL is led by diminutive quarterback Will Stein.  Generously listed as 5'10," the Trinity grad has been an efficient, yet battered passer (Stein took six sacks against FIU), who threw for nearly 350 yards in UofL's loss to FIU. On the season, Stein has completed 62.7% of his throws, while tossing four touchdowns and one interception.  With Stein's lack of length, UK's defensive line, as well as linebackers, have a terrific opportunity to disrupt the Cardinals' passing game to a shocking degree, forcing the Cards to the ground.  FIU showed the world Stein is vulnerable behind a less-than-stellar UofL offensive line, and this Card weakness seems to be the most glaring hole in an otherwise talented offensive group.  Which is led by ...

... freshman receiver DeVante Parker.  Parker, a product of Ballard High School, is the prototypical game-breaking receiver: Long at 6'3," bulky enough to endure a hit at 196lbs, and certainly fast enough to cause opposing defensive backs to allow for a cushion, a cushion many times responsible for big games by big-time receivers.  Parker is averaging a healthy 15.3 yards per reception, and leads the Cardinal receiving corps with two touchdowns.  Leading UofL in receptions with eight is 6'8" tight end Josh Chichester, who is also shown he can create yac -- yards after the catch -- by averaging a dangerously robust 18.8 yards per reception.  While not as speedy as Parker, Chichester is very athletic and quick for a man his size, and poses a real match-up problem for the UK secondary.  Josh Bellamy (6'0") is another burner the 'Cats must keep under control.  Although the UofL senior has been quieted so far this season, catching only five passes for 44 yards, he's a dangerous, big play receiver who's capable of taking advantage of a stretched defense.

Redshirt freshman Michaelee Harris (6'2") has been a pleasant development in a mostly uneven early season for Strong's club.  Harris is tied for second on the team with seven catches (for 116 yards), and is averaging a terrific 16.6 yards per reception.  True freshman Eli Rogers has also pitched in to make five catches (for 44 yards), and junior wide out Scott Radcliff has snagged four passes for 40 yards -- Radcliff is also a strong punt returner, returning three punts for an impressive 10.3 yards per return. 

On the ground, St. Xavier alum Victor Anderson is the Cards' main man (22 carries for 90 yards, one touchdown).  A dual threat runner and pass catcher, Anderson is quick and has elusive tendencies.  At 5'9," 188lbs, Anderson's center of gravity is low to the ground, making him a hard, swift moving target to nail (when healthy, and right now, he's healthy).  Also an adept pass catcher (seven catches for 45 yards) he'll serve as Stein's safety valve on this day, giving the UK linebacker and secondary corps someone to keep an eye on around the edges.  Sophomore Jeremy Wright, a 5'11," 200lb back has gained some tough yards for the Cards this year, and checks in with 29 carries for 85 yards (2.9 yards per carry) on the season.

Defensively, UofL relies heavily on Male High School's Dexter Heyman.  The 6'3" senior linebacker leads the team with 18 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and has a sack plus an interception to his credit.  Heyman is extremely athletic, and pursues the ball with gusto.  Quite simply, he is Louisville's answer to Danny Trevathan.  Helping Heyman behind the line is 6'1," 221lb junior LB Daniel Brown.  Brown, who last year recorded 55 tackles and 10.0 tackles for loss, is another aggressive, quick defender wearing Cardinal red.  This year, Brown is tied for second on the team with 14 tackles.  Preston Brown (6'0," 258lbs) is the third linebacker of the group and comes into the game with 2.5 tackles for loss on the year, to go along with 14 tackles.  

Greg Scruggs, a capable 6'4," 285lb defensive tackle (four tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack), as well as 5'10" safety Mike Evans (12 tackles, one interception) are two other UofL defenders who could make life miserable for the 'Cats Saturday night. 

Hilton's Big Play Day and What it Means

In Louisville's first two contests -- a 21-6 win versus Murray State, and a 24-17 loss to Florida International -- the 'Cards were fairly affective stopping the run, giving up only 2.5 yards per carry and 94.0 rushing yards per contest, but were burned by the big pass play, particularly in their loss to FIU: Florida International receiver T.Y. Hilton displayed serious wheels as he caught a 74-yard touchdown pass on FIU's first offensive series of the second half, then, just to prove the first TD wasn't a fluke, he caught an 83-yard bomb, putting up six more points.  On both plays the UofL secondary was beaten badly by the speed burner (Hilton ended the evening with seven catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with two kickoff returns for 67 yards), perhaps giving us a glimpse of the now-present future.

Although the Cards possess several players talented enough to turn a 10-yard pass into an  80-yard touchdown, Kentucky also has more than a couple of big play guys, and will most likely be given several opportunities to burn the Cards with the deep ball.  I think Joker Phillips was right this week when he theorized UofL will stuff the box with eight red jerseys and dare UK quarterback Morgan Newton to throw the ball.  Charlie Strong knows, with Newton's struggles throwing the short-range pass, if he forces UK into a short passing attack, overthrows, under-throws, and bobbled passes can be turned into a pick six with a quickness.  Strong also knows, UK's receivers have been something less than handy, what, with their double-digit on-target drops already this season.

But, that plan of attack could prove to be a dangerous strategy for coach Strong.  With the struggles the Louisville secondary has been through, gambling on Newton not getting any better (and the UK receivers continuing to drop passes) might be the motivation this UK team needs to toss aside mediocrity for something more substantial -- Not unlike the motivation Kentucky derived from the effrontery perpetrated by Central Michigan after the Chips went for it on fourth and inches from their own 34 yard line -- The receivers should take this UofL game-plan to heart, and ask themselves, "Are we the type of receivers who opposing coaches allow to catch the ball?"  That's a slap in the face, but until proved otherwise, I can't say that I blame Strong for his defensive tack.

But, if the 'Cats are able to complete the mid-range, and perhaps a few long passes, that should open up the running lanes for newly minted starting tailback Josh Clemons and his big play capabilities.  Clemons, at 5'10," 201lbs, takes over for the injured Raymond Sanders, and is one of the most exciting runners to come through Lexington since George Adams was totin' the rock for Jerry Claiborne (and that's saying something because UK has had some outstanding running backs over the last 30 years or so).  Strong, yet quick, Clemons is a typical down-hill runner, who is able to take a hit, stay on his feet, and gain extra yards. 

With Sanders out of the lineup, Clemons' fellow freshman stud, the speedy Marcus Caffey (5'11," 189lbs; sub 4.5 40), will also see playing time.  The highly-recruited Caffey comes to UK adorned with accolades and potential oozing from his pores.  This game should be Wildcats fan's first glimpse of the UK running back duo of the future.  Finally, Jonathan George, a 5'10," 209lb redshirt sophomore, has been elevated to second string on the depth chart for this game, giving UK fans their first prolonged glimpse of the speedy Alabama product (last season George carried the ball only nine times for 25 yards).

What It Says Here

It says here, the 'Cats will continue the solid offensive play they put together over the final one-and-a-half quarters of their Central Michigan win; it says here, Morgan Newton will look, look, and run, instead of, look, look, and force bad pass; it says here, UK's receivers will catch more than they drop; it says here, UK's o-line will open craters for Clemons and crew to scamper through; and at last, it says here, Kentucky's Danny Trevathan, Collins Ukwu, and Winston Guy will put the Fear of 'Cats into Will Stein, causing Card fans to flash back to 2002 when their beloved quarterback Dave Ragone morphed into a bloody, limping shell of himself by the end of the fourth quarter.  Yeah, seems about right.

It says here, 24-13 'Cats (sorry 'bout your luck, Charlie).

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!  BEAT THE CARDS!