Last Time: Down 21-0, Bobby Petrino replaced Kyle Bolin with Lamar Jackson, and the Cardinals completed the largest comeback victory in the rivalry’s history. Louisville scored 31 unanswered points in the second half, en route to a 38-24 win in Lexington. Jackson ran for a then-school record 186 yards as a quarterback with two rushing touchdowns, and added a passing touchdown to James Quick. Louisville held Kentucky’s passing game down, keeping starting quarterback Drew Barker at 6-for-22 for 128 yards.
The Cards and the Cats are currently tied 14-14 all-time, but Louisville has won the last five games.
About the Kentucky Wildcats
The Kentucky Wildcats enter this week’s game at 6-5, finally bowl eligible for the first time in the Mark Stoops era. It was noted that the last two seasons, Louisville ended Kentucky’s bowl aspirations each time, but now it will be interesting to see where Stoops’ team will be mentally, after achieving bowl eligibility against Austin Peay last week.
It didn’t start out that way, though. After two crushing losses to Southern Miss and Florida, Stoops turned to JUCO transfer Stephen Johnson as the new quarterback, who has since given the Kentucky offense a new wrinkle that has kept them alive. The offense doesn’t go into a pass-first mode anymore; they now run the ball with an impressive stable of running backs, and then parlay that into deep shots down the field with guys like Jeff Badet. It’s a simple formula, but it’s given Kentucky its best offense in the Stoops era and why they’re bowl eligible.
On defense, Mark Stoops was known as a great mind at Florida State, but Kentucky’s has not been as impressive in 2016. They have a solid linebacker group and a decent duo at cornerback, but the rest leave a lot to be desired going against better, faster athletes in space. But a good running game will grind the clock and keeps opposing offenses – and respectively, Kentucky’s maligned defense – off the field; it’s why the Dallas Cowboys have been so successful in the NFL, and why Kentucky can realistically compete against Louisville tomorrow.
Players to Watch
- RB Benjamin Snell: With Boom Williams being a guy that can get injured easily if he gets the ball too much, Snell has been one of the breakout stars for the Wildcats this season. Snell is a north-south runner who is more durable than Williams, and they can use him in either power runs or in a Wildcat formation. Snell is a freshman All-American candidate who gets stronger as the game goes on, and can wear defenses down in the fourth quarter with Wildcat formation runs over and over again.
- RB Stanley “Boom” Williams: Most Louisville fans know about the impact that Boom has on his team. When Snell isn’t running north and south, Boom has more explosiveness in his running, able to cut outside and run every direction on defenses. He ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the 44-40 loss in 2014, and his injury in last year’s game caused Kentucky to be completely stagnant on offense. Now with Snell to spell him on occasion, his speed on the outside can keep defenses from containing the box to stop the run.
- LB Jordan Jones: Kentucky’s defense has left a lot to be desired in terms of stopping the run, but Jones has been a solid force for them this season. I’ve watched three or four UK games, and each time he has stood out as the best player on his defense. Jones has a nose for sniffing out ball-carriers, and can wreak havoc as the weak side linebacker with 12 tackles for loss this season. Expect Jones to be the man assigned with trying to contain Jackson in space, and his high level of awareness can sniff out options that Jackson may try to run.
Keys to the Game
- Will Louisville play disciplined football?: With five turnovers in the last two games, and an extremely high count of sacks and penalties allowed by Louisville’s offensive line, it goes without saying that Louisville needs to work on play with sound fundamentals. Both teams have had issues with turnovers (Louisville -5 in turnover margin, Kentucky -8), so the first order of business for Louisville is to play with a high level of ball security and trying to steer clear of boneheaded penalties and mistakes. This is a much better Kentucky team that can capitalize on Louisville’s mistakes, so Louisville may not want to trail by two or three touchdowns like they have the last two seasons.
- Lamar Jackson v. Kentucky defense: It also goes without saying that Kentucky’s main issue this season is being unable to stop elite athletes in space, especially at quarterback. Kentucky was absolutely shredded by Tennessee, Mississippi State and Southern Miss against higher-caliber quarterbacks, with the Vols and Bulldogs getting seemingly what they want from dual-threat guys. Expect Jackson to be an integral threat in Petrino’s game plan, and going back to the option game that has made the Cardinals one of the best offenses in 2016. Jackson ran for 186 yards against UK last year as a backup, and could be in for gaudier numbers as the starter for tomorrow’s game.
- Louisville front seven v. Kentucky RBs: The main focal point of this year’s rivalry game will be if the Kentucky running game can keep pace with Louisville’s high-powered offense. Louisville has not faced many teams with a high-powered running game, but they’ve held the likes of Dalvin Cook and Matthew Dayes down, keeping a great running back contained while limiting an average QB’s impact on the game. However, Kentucky has a decent offensive line capable of creating holes for the running backs, and it’s not to say they may be better than Florida State’s offensive line, but they can do enough on offense to keep Jackson on the sidelines. Louisville has to contain Boom and Snell and get Lamar the ball as often as they can.
Justin Krueger: 54-27. As bad as Louisville looked last week against rival Houston, I can’t fathom them coming out flat against their in-state rival, especially with an Orange Bowl bid largely still in-play. Lamar Jackson should have another monster game against a defense that has had issues all season stopping mobile quarterbacks, and it should reinvigorate his Heisman candidacy if it lost any luster back in Houston. Kentucky will get their share of points with the running game, but the lack of a passing game may cause them to be one-dimensional and sputter towards the end.
Jacob Pratt: 45-31
Paige Sherrard: 40-10
Mitch Motley: 70-10
Jeff Nunn: 56-24
Jeremy Wahman: 48-20