On paper, Louisville is supposed to beat Kentucky by almost 2 touchdowns on Sunday. If we’ve learned much of anything from the recent Governor’s Cup results, the clear-cut favorite does not always come out on top. Logical fans from both sides of the equation have vocalized at various points this week that the margin between these two teams is starting to feel a lot closer than two touchdowns. Throw in the rivalry aspect of it and the fact that the game is the first of the season for both teams and all bets are off. For about two weeks now, I’ve been left with the same lingering thought when predicting the outcome of this game: 3 points. For whatever reason, perhaps it’s overuse of 3 goggles from October to April or the fact that a walk-off field goal would be the perfect dramatic ending to this game, 3 points feels a highly likely margin for me when it comes to these 2 teams.
For weeks now, we’ve dissected the details. We waited patiently for Kentucky to name the starting quarterback. We waited for any slither of information at all to come from the Louisville camp. We’ve compared playmakers, quarterbacks, defenses, running game vs. passing game, etc, etc. As much as I want Max Smith or DeMarco Robinson to combine for a “Stevie Got Loose 2.0” moment, and as much as Louisville fans want Teddy Bridgewater heroics, I have a feeling the 3 point margin will come down the smallest of details. The difference between a year’s worth of trash talking and, well, a year’s worth of trash talking without results to back it up, might not be a 40-yard touchdown pass or a dazzling run by one of Kentucky’s 18 running backs. The winning touchdown probably won’t come on a pass from Max Smith to tight end Morgan Newton (kidding, people). The difference will be something much more minute, and I have 3 predictions (and yes, I know some of them may seem obvious) that might be worth 3 points. And in this game, 3 points very well might be worth the win.
1) Special Teams
I would love to see Demarco Robinson return a punt for 6 as much as the next Kentucky fan, but with a relatively inexperienced return unit for both Louisville and Kentucky, the more important key to the game on Sunday might be which team avoids a big mistake. Will either team’s special teams account for 6 points? I’m betting no…or at least not how you might think. The Kentucky coaching staff talked about having trouble finding the guy, or guys, who could return the ball without fumbling. If either team makes a crucial error on special teams, most likely a fumble– either resulting in a TD or good field position– that might be the difference and doesn’t seem highly unlikely considering the lack of experience.
*Fun fact: Last year’s game featured 14 punts.
Last year’s Governor’s Cup match-up was wrought with penalties. The penalties added up to 108-yards total on 13 penalties. It’s important to note that last year’s game was the 3rd game of the season as well. The young/talented players for each team might be prone to penalty-worthy mistakes, especially in the very first outing of the season. Whichever team can avoid turning 3rd and short plays into 3rd and long plays might have the best chance to keep their running game in control of the tempo. We’ve heard a lot this week about how the team able to run the ball the most successfully has won the game.
*Fun fact: UK rushed for 35 total yards in the game against Louisville last year. Louisville completed 12 total passes.
3) One big decision at the right time…
Rich Brooks wasn’t always the most risky coach in the game, but he seemed to have an impeccable knack for knowing when the perfect moment arrived to do something a bit unexpected. They say that every coach and every team has a few special situation plays that they practice every week just in case the moment comes. Which coach might have the knack of making the big decision to try something unexpected at the right time during the game on Sunday? The play might not result in instant gratification or a touchdown even. The play might simply result in keeping a drive alive long enough to gain 20 more yards and then hit a field goal.
It seems as if many years in the Governor’s Cup, the players who we expect to have the biggest impact don’t always come through. The biggest play of the game might come from a guy who wasn’t quite cut out to be in the starting unit on offense or defense, and instead tried his hand at making an impact on special teams.
Do you have any other predictions for the deciding factor in the outcome of the game? If the margin is close, what will be the difference?