Despite the Kentucky’s recent success in the Mark Stoops era, it’s been almost a decade since the Wildcats have beat in-state rival Louisville on its home turf in Lexington. The Wildcats last home win over the Cardinals was a 31-27 win during the 2009 regular season at Commonwealth Stadium.
Kentucky will get its final chance of the 2010s on Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field as the Wildcats hope to not only end the streak, but hope to keep the Governor’s Cup in Lexington while presenting a convincing argument to those sending out bowl invitations. This type of trifecta could get the Cats back into a high-profile bowl game to end the year.
UK has won two of the last three meetings, including a convincing 56-10 win last year at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium as the 46-point margin was the largest in Governor’s Cup history. The annual “Battle of the Bluegrass” kicks off at Noon on the SEC Network.
Despite injuries and continued heartache this season, the Kentucky football team has plowed ahead to its fourth consecutive season with six or more wins with a host of game balls that can be handed out to key players this season. In fact, this team has been resilient through adversity and keeps finding a way to bounce back into the win column.
Without question, the most memorable story line this year has been the play of emergency quarterback Lynn Bowden who started the year as UK’s leading receiver and kick returner.
Due to injuries to starting quarterback Terry Wilson and backup Sawyer Smith, the former Ohio all-state quarterback had to quickly learn the playbook and find a way to get the Cats into the end zone each week. In the end, Bowden’s performance under center has saved what could have easily been a disaster for the Wildcats this year.
In six starts at quarterback, Bowden has twice been named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week and is a Paul Hornung Award finalist for the nation’s most versatile athlete. He currently ranks 14th nationally and second in the SEC in all-purpose yards, averaging 141.1 yards per game. He also ranks second in the nation in rushing yards per carry (7.37) and needs just 49 more rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
With Bowden being a junior, he may enter the NFL Draft following this season, which mean’s Saturday’s game could the be last time we see #1 at Kroger Field.
Kentucky’s rushing offense currently ranks second in the SEC and 12th nationally at 252.4 yards per game. In last week’s win over Tennessee-Martin, the Cats rushed for a single-season school-record 462 yards to become bowl eligible for the fourth-straight season.
Other key performers this season for the Cats have been junior Max Duffy, who leads the FBS at 48.9 yards per kick and has been named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s top punter. He’s the school’s all-time leading punter at 46.54 yards per kick.
Kentucky’s offensive line, led by returning starters Drake Jackson, Landon Young, and Logan Stenberg, has also been a huge key to success this season and was recently named a semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, recognizing the Most Outstanding Offensive Line Unit in college football.
The Cats, 6-5 overall, should also get an emotional lift this week with news that Stoops has withdrawn from consideration for the Head Coaching job at Florida State. Now in his seventh season, Stoops has built a UK football program that not only competes on the field, but has also become a destination for many of the nation’s top football recruits.
Rise of Louisville Football
After a disappointing 2-10 season a year ago, incoming coach Scott Satterfield has led a complete overhaul of the program after becoming the first coach in school history to defeat a ranked opponent when the Cardinals upset No. 19 Wake Forest in early October.
Like Stoops, the former Appalachian State coach is a hot commodity throughout college football with a seven-win season (7-4 overall, 5-3 in the ACC) and national recognition that puts him in the conversation for ACC Coach of the Year honors.
For Satterfield and the Cardinals, it’s all about moving the chains as an explosive offense is currently ranked in the nation’s top 30 in scoring and total offense. The Cardinals have rushed for 2,360 yards, which is more than the 1,698 yards rushed in 12 games last season.
Against Syracuse, the Cardinals rushed for 370 yards in the win over the Orange — the fourth highest rushing total in the last 41 years. Louisville is only one of six schools in the country averaging at least 214 yards on the ground and 230 through the air: UCF, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, Utah.
Offensively, Louisville leads UK in almost every offensive category including Points Per Game (34.5/26.6), Passing Yards (238.8/127.4) and Total Offense (453.4/379.7). However, the Wildcats do have the edge in Rushing Yards Per Game (252.4/214.5) and lead Louisville in every defensive category.
UL’s Players To Watch
Louisville rushing attack is led by Javian Hawkins who has rushed for 1,278 yards this season and ranks 11th nationally at 116.2 yards per game on the ground. He set a new freshman single game record by rushing for 233 yards on 23 carries in the win over Syracuse.
Hawkins is currently ninth on the school’s all-time single-season rushing list and needs 324 yards in his final two games to break Lamar Jackson’s single-season rushing record of 1,601 yards.
After struggling as a freshman, quarterback Micale Cunningham has settled in to throw for 1,708 yards and 19 touchdowns, while posting a passing efficiency rating of 198.74, which ranks fourth in the country. In the win over Syracuse, Cunningham accounted for six touchdowns, including a career high five through the air, which is tied for the third most in school history.
Another breakout star this season has been wide receiver Tutu Atwell who has caught 57 passes for 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns, ranking 10th in the nation in both categories (yardage and touchdowns).
In the win against Syracuse, the sophomore caught five passes for 152 yards and two scores, including a 90-yard scoring reception that was the fourth longest in school history.
The Cardinals are sure to take several shots down field against a young UK secondary that has struggled at times this season. Fortunately, Kentucky’s run defense has been solid and has held six consecutive opponents to 305 total yards or less, the best such stretch since 1977, and allowed just 402 total yards to Vanderbilt and Tennessee-Martin the past two games.
Kentucky’s Yusuf Corker leads the team in tackles with 62, while DeAndre Square (61), Brandin Echols (46) and Kash Daniel (45) will all be ready to drop the hammer on the Louisville offense. Calvin Taylor is tied for the SEC lead in sacks (7.5). Taylor and Daniel will be playing their final home game Saturday, so the two seniors will be looking to finish their careers with three wins over the Cardinals.