clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Know Your Enemy: Louisville Cardinals

It’s the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals meeting at Kroger Field. This game hypes itself!

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, I get the frustration that the Kentucky Wildcats football fans have with the 2017 season. Due to the heartbreaking losses to Florida and Ole Miss, it will always be known as "the what could have been" season.

However, being a lifelong fan of this team and having very few happy seasons, I still accept this team and root for them with all of their flaws. And this team still has a chance to finish 8-4 and defeat Louisville and Tennessee.

For Kentucky football fans, that is a tremendously successful season.

Both Kentucky and Louisville enter the game with 7-4 records and Kentucky has a very good chance to win their second straight game over their hated rivals and for the first time since Mark Stoops arrived, have the best record in the state.

There really is no need to hype this game as it stands on its own and I love the fact that this is the last game of the year now, It's time for Stoops and company to take back the commonwealth and beat the dirty birds again.

Let's meet the Cardinals.

THE OFFENSE

Perhaps no college football program is as dependent on their quarterback to kickstart their offense as Louisville is with Lamar Jackson. And as hard as it is to believe, Jackson is actually better this year.

Jackson comes into the game with 3,273 yards passing and 23 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. He has improved his completion percentage to 59.8% and has cut down on being sacked from 46 last season to 23 this year. He was already an effective passer last year, but has matured over the past year and makes better decisions.

Jackson is still one of the best at running the ball in the NCAA and he has 1,287 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns. He is even more dangerous as he has increased his rushing average almost a yard to 6.8 yards a carry. He has cracked 100 yards rushing in his last five games and he has averaged an obscene 9.56 yards per carry in his last two games. In each of the past five games, Jackson has had a run of at least 41 yards. With the way this Kentucky defense gives up big plays, you can bet Mark Stoops is having nightmares.

After Jackson, Senior Malik Williams is the next biggest ground threat. He averages 8.5 yards a carry and has 509 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on the year. Williams has been inconsistent at times, but it is hard to ignore a back that is coming off a game where he had 180 yards rushing on just nine carries against Syracuse. Reggie Bonnafon is having his best season with 383 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns. Bonnafon is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield and has 20 catches for 155 yards.

Jackson has a dangerous receiving corps that average 14.1 yards a catch and have had their share of big plays. Jaylen Smith has missed three games and still leads the team with 47 catches for 798 yards. He averages 17 yards a catch and has five touchdowns. Freshman Dez Fitzpatrick has really emerged and has 43 grabs for 662 yards and leads the team with 8 touchdown receptions.

Seth Dawkins is a reliable third option with 37 catches for 577 yards and four scores.

Charles Standberry is the TE option that Jackson relies on and he has 26 catches for 282 yards and three scores.

THE DEFENSE

Despite the public perception, this is still a pretty solid Louisville defense and they have been playing their best ball of the year. They allow an uncharacteristic 28 points a game but are pretty tough to run against, allowing 147.2 yards a game and a 3.9 yard per carry clip. You can pass against this team however as they allow 244 yards a game. They have been wildly inconsistent, however as they have allowed five teams to score more than 30 points, including 45 by Boston College.

DT GG Robinson has stepped it up in his Sophomore season and is another young player that is producing. He has 26 tackles and 3 of those are for a loss.

DL Henry Famurewa has 2 sacks and does a good job of getting into the offensive backfield and putting pressure on the quarterback.

Also listed as an LB, James Hearns frequents the line and is one of the best pass rushers in the nation with 7 sacks and 13.5 TFL. John Greenard has 6 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss.

Trevon Young redshirted last season but has come back strong and he puts constant pressure on the quarterback and can get in the backfield. He has 50 tackles, 8 of them for a loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Freshman Dorian Etheridge has been an immediate impact on the Cardinals linebacking corps and leads the team with 69 tackles.

Stacy Thomas has been very dependable and has two games with at least 10 tackles and is fourth on the team with 50 tackles and had 5.5 of them for a loss. He has done this even with missing three games.

London Iakopo missed last season with an injury and has made the transition from the Safety position and is a hard hitter.

Senior Safety Chucky Williams has been called the quarterback of the defense and he provides great leadership with 68 tackles and two interceptions. He is also a hard hitter that has forced three fumbles.

The return of Jaire Alexander has been a much-needed boost for this unit and seems to have given them a new identity.

Trumaine Washington has four interceptions and a very solid career and provides more leadership. Zykiesis Cannon has been steady as well with 63 tackles and 2.5 of them were for a loss. He is fourth on the team with 50 tackles and had 5.5 of them for a loss. He has done this even with missing three games.

Trevon Young redshirted last season but has come back strong and he puts constant pressure on the quarterback and can get in the backfield. He has 50 tackles, 8 of them for a loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Freshman Safety Tresean Smith has 2 interceptions and 4 tackles for a loss. This is a unit that was torched last year with 29 touchdown passes but have given up just 18 this year.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

For some reason, Las Vegas has made the Cardinals about a 1o point favorite. I don't don't really think that is accurate but I can see why they feel that way. Kentucky's offense has been dreadful at times and Lamar Jackson has been in video game mode. That is a fair expectation and I can see why Louisville is favored, but I don't have to buy the 10 point spread.

For the most part, the Wildcats have played pretty well against Bobby Petrino and the Cardinals despite Louisville being heavy favorites. In 2014, Kentucky gave the Cardinals all they wanted in a 44-40 loss at Louisville.

In 2015, they led 24-7 at the half before a second-half meltdown. And last season, Kentucky was a 28 point underdog before finally breaking through with the win. No one really gave Kentucky a chance in any of those game but they were much more interesting than they should have been.

Most of Kentucky's harm this year has been self-inflicted with penalties, turnovers, and questionable playcalling. And that is why there is a general malaise among part of this fanbase over what could have been. Admittedly, Kentucky should be 9-2 and in sole possession of second place in the East.

It is what it is, however. But an 8-4 season with wins over Tennessee and Louisville will make this a tremendous season by Kentucky standards. And one that will be remembered better in history than in recent memory.

Much has been made of how motivated Lamar Jackson is, but this entire Kentucky team should be equally motivated to end this season on a bright spot. This is a group of seniors that committed to Kentucky after back to back 2-10 seasons and ending their career with back to back bowls and wins over Louisville is something they want just as badly as Lamar Jackson wants to redeem himself.

This is a group of players that have gone 24-24 since arriving at Kentucky and they badly want to go out on a winning record.

Lamar Jackson will go off tomorrow. Look for at least 400 yards from him combined. The key is to limit the big plays and make sure that players like Malik Williams and Bonnafon are not able to gouge them as well. If that happens, Louisville could crack 300 yards on the ground and prove the oddsmakers right.

I thought that Kentucky played pretty well at times against Georgia and I appreciated their effort for the first three quarters. Once again, most of the damage was self-inflicted. Look for the Wildcats to finally put together that four-quarter effort we have been waiting for all season as this is still a beatable Cardinal squad, despite the odds.

I may be drinking the Kool-Aid, but this group of seniors will go out a winner with a 31-28 win.