The battle of Bluegrass rivals returns this week as the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals square off Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium for the right to hoist the Governor's Cup.
It's been a season full of ups and downs for both in-state rivals as they look to end their regular seasons on a high note. For the 'Cats, they were able to end a five-game losing streak last week thanks to a 48-point win over the Charlotte 49ers. It was the kind of feel-good win this team needed after it appeared another late-season slide would derail what appeared to be a promising season.
That was the case last year after UK lost six straight to end the season, including a gut-wrenching loss to the Cardinals in the season finale. This time around, UK lost five straight after a 4-1 start that had some in the Bluegrass dreaming of an SEC East title.
But this time around, the 'Cats were able to end their streak thanks to the win over Charlotte out of Conference USA. It ended up being one of the greatest rushing performances ever by a Wildcat team, totaling 415 yards on the ground for its fourth-best single-game performance in UK history. Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams each had career days, with Kemp rushing for 165 yards and three TDs. Williams had a pair of rushing scores, collecting 140 yards on 16 carries.
For the Cardinals, they're coming off a near-miraculous comeback win over the Pitt Panthers in Pittsburgh. After trailing 42-17 at one point in the first half, the Cards went on a 17-0 run to pull to within 42-34, but the Panthers would hold on to escape with a 45-34 win.
Cardinals true freshman QB Lamar Jackson finished the game after redshirt sophomore Kyle Bolin started but struggled early on. UL's latest depth chart has Bolin or Jackson as the team’s starting QB, and head coach Bobby Petrino isn't sure who will go with this week.
As for which QB is superior and/or matches up better with Kentucky, Jackson is by far the more mobile and athletic passer while possessing a slightly bigger arm. Given how much Kentucky has struggled against mobile quarterbacks, he seems like the guy Louisville should go with. Combined with the fact he finished last week's game after Bolin had struggled and helped put UL in a 42-17 hole, the odds favor Jackson getting the start in this one.
But it was in last year's matchup with UK that saw Bolin fill in for the injured Reggie Bonnafon and go on to complete 21 of 31 passes (67.7%) for 381 yards and three touchdowns vs. one interception.
This season, Bolin has completed 76 of 132 passes (57.6% for 1,109 yards and seven scores vs. four picks. Jackson has completed 115 of 200 passes (57.5%) for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns vs. seven picks. He's also rushed 124 times for 548 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and seven more scores.
Since this is such a big game for both schools and Petrino is an expert at finding mismatches, we should expect to see both QBs playing this week since they both can expose UK's defense in different ways.
Expect Jackson to start the game and get many of the reps early on, but if he struggles and/or UK builds a lead, look for Bolin to come in and try and rally the Cards again. In the end, Jackson will likely finish the game having the most snaps of the two. He's shown more promise and given the Cards' enigmatic offense more explosion plays throughout the year.
Whoever is throwing the ball, they'll be best served making sure it goes to junior receiver Jamari Staples. Against Pitt, the 6-foot-4, 194-pound transfer from UAB caught nine passes for 194 yards – the sixth-most ever by a U of L receiver – and a touchdown to keep Louisville afloat in the game. After missing the first four games with a sprained knee, Staples has 35 receptions, 599 receiving yards and an average of 17.1 yards per catch while being tied for second on the team with three scoring catches.
As for the trophy both teams are playing for in this game, the Governor’s Cup was created in 1994 as the trophy for the winner of the Kentucky-Louisville game. Donated by The Kroger Company at a cost of $23,000, the Governor’s Cup stands 33 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds.
The trophy’s base and upright columns are hand-milled black marble. The cup itself is made of pewter with a 23- karat gold-plated finish. Kroger is also donating $10,000 to each school for each year the game is played. Kroger’s donations now total $420,000 - $210,000 to each school.
Saturday will mark the 28th all-time meeting between Kentucky and Louisville with the Wildcats leading the series 14-13. UL has won each of the last four meetings dating back to 2011, including last year's 44-40 win in Louisville. That game saw a 5-6 UK team push the No. 22 Cards to the limit before UL escaped with a four-point win.
This time around, the Wildcats are once again 5-6, but will host the Cardinals this time in hopes of reaching the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.
Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow Kentucky vs Louisville.
When: Saturday, Nov. 27, 12:00 p.m. ET
Where: Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Tom Leach (play-by-play), Jeff Piecoro (analyst) and Dick Gabriel (sideline) will have the call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington. It's also available on satellite radio (XM 191 and Sirius 145) or online at UKathleticsgameday.com/football.
Live Online Stream: Watch ESPN and the Watch ESPN App
Odds: Louisville enters this game as a 5-point favorite with an over/under of 53, according to Odds Shark.
Weather: Per Weather Underground, it's looking like there's a good chance of rain: