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The Governor’s Cup: A History Lesson

Coach Brooks celebrates a victory at Louisville.
Coach Brooks responds to whether Duncan Cavanah is his favorite KSR writer

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
– George Bernard Shaw

I can proclaim, with reasonable certainty, that this Saturday at 3:30 Eastern, Kentucky and Louisville will kick off the twenty-third installment of their football rivalry. Beyond that, who knows. There are simply too many unknowns on both the dark side and the Lord’s side, for any prognosticator, amateur or otherwise, to be confident as to exactly how the game will play out. Still, the modern series has now given us sixteen samples to provide some guidance as to what will unfold in the seventeenth edition. And while some may argue that history has no bearing on how these particular teams will play on this particular Saturday, there are trends that bear watching. Here are a few.


The Cats lead the all-time series thirteen to nine, but trail nine to seven in the modern version. That means that over the last century or so, it’s been a virtual toss-up, with the Cards winning about 56% of the contests. That said, those numbers are skewed somewhat by three years of Kentucky probation and two subsequent years of significantly reduced scholarships, during which time the Cards won five of six. When both teams have had a full compliment of players at their disposal, the Cats hold a slight edge.


Despite much bluster from Card fans regarding the imposing home-field advantage generated by the awe-inspiring Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (which contains all chair-back seats you ignorant hayseeds), the Cats have rather enjoyed dining in during this series. The Cats are three and three at the Big Slice, compared to only four and six at the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium.


Another commonly held belief among the Cardinal message board set is that the grand opening of Louisville’s newly-expanded stadium will create such a hostile environment that the Cats will simply wilt under the pressure. And while it is true that 10,000 additional red-clad Louisville fans, many of whom look like Jersey Shore stunt doubles, sound imposing, series history says otherwise. In 1999, the Cats opened newly-expanded Commonwealth Stadium against Louisville with much pageantry and fanfare, and were summarily annihilated 56-28. In 1998, Kentucky returned the favor by ushering in Papa John’s with a 68-34 beatdown of the Cards. Thus, historically, new seats have not equaled on-the-field success for the home squad.


Over the years, this rivalry has produced an extraordinary number of game-changing plays in the kicking game. In reviewing the last ten games in the series, I count nine such plays. (Five kick returns for touchdowns, three fumbles by special teamers leading directly to scores and a blocked kick by Louisville in 2000 that proved to be the game winner.) Based on percentages, you can be fairly certain that there will be an enormous special teams play this Saturday.


A commonly held football truism is that rivalry games are always battles to the final whistle, even if one team fields superior talent. In this series, that has simply not been the case, as blow-outs have occurred every bit as frequently as nail-biters. In fact, in the sixteen games of the modern rivalry, there have been seven games decided by a touchdown or less, and an equal number of games decided by three touchdowns or more.


Despite the fact that both Coach Phillips and Coach Strong have indicated a conservative game plan for Saturday’s match-up, history says that there will be no shortage of offensive fireworks. In the modern series, the Cats and Cards have combined to average 57 points per game. Therefore, although we certainly do not endorse gambling here at KSR, the over is historically worth a look. In case anyone is interested, the number as of press time is 49.


There is no human utterance more devoid of original thought than to say that to win in football, teams must run the ball, stop the run and avoid turnovers. Having said that, the fact that the statement is cliché does not make the premise incorrect. I reviewed the box scores of the last eleven games in this series. Of those, in all eleven games, the team that produced the most rushing yards won the game. Additionally, in nine of those eleven, the team with fewer turnovers was victorious.

It seems fairly unlikely that either coaching staff, in these last few precious days of preparation, is devoting a moment’s thought to historical trends in the series. Still, I firmly believe that there is information there that can provide some clue as to what we will all see this Saturday. And, if you disagree, and found all of the above to be completely useless, you are still five minutes closer to kickoff than you were when you started. You’re welcome.

Article written by Duncan Cavanah