The annual Governor’s Cup match-up between Louisville and Kentucky is now just 12 short days away. This battle always seems to bring out any number of things like terrific atmosphere, certain shenanigans from fans, and most importantly a competitive game. The greatest example of a competitive game would be the other “Battle of the Trenches” which sees both Wildcats and Cardinals returning nearly everybody. Rick Minter’s Kentucky Defense returns all of its three down Lineman from 2011 in Collins Ukwu, Donte Rumph, and Mister Cobble. The trio proved to be one of Kentucky’s best defensive units last season and will unquestionably be the anchor of a defense that lost many due to the NFL Draft and graduation. Louisville, similarly to Kentucky’s Defensive Line, returns a high percentage of starters on the Offensive Line, four out of five to be specific. Led by Seniors Alex Kupper and Mario Benavides, Louisville looks to have one of the stronger Offensive Lines in the Big East. This match-up of experience v. experience will certainly be one of September 2nd’s best, but which unit will come out on top?
Louisville’s Offensive Line
Last year saw Louisville’s somewhat youthful Offensive Line play well in some areas despite previously mentioned youth. They were able to allow then Freshman Quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, time to scan the field for his young receiving corps, evidenced by throwing 7.2 yards per attempt (56th), while completing 63.8% of passes (T-29th). However, several severe issues like rushing efficiency and Sack Percentage need to be addressed going into the new season, they finished the 2011 campaign gaining 3.39 yards per carry (101st) and allowed sacks on 10.8% of pass attempts (113th). A portion of blame for those numbers can be placed on the inexperience of their line (and Quarterback), which started two Freshmen (John Miller and Jake Smith), but with maturity usually comes improvment. Charlie Strong and Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson must find a way to allow Teddy Bridgewater enough time in the pocket to find open receivers. In the past, pressure has affected Bridgewater’s passing accuracy immensely, take the Belk Bowl against NC State where he tossed three picks for example. For Louisville to be successful in this game, the fight against Kentucky’s D-Line is a must win.
Kentucky’s Defensive Line
Kentucky’s three down linemen, Collins Ukwu (Sr.), Donte Rumph (Jr.), and Mister Cobble (Jr.) are not only the biggest asset to the defense, but the best unit on the team. The two tackles, Cobble and Rumph, posses ideal size to plug holes in an opponents rushing attack, and it’s welcomed since there will only be three down linemen guarding the initial rush in Minter’s system. Last season Kentucky finished ranked 65th nationally in Sack Percentage, taking Quarterbacks down on 5.9% of pass attempts, contributing heavily to our 51st ranked pass defense. The biggest key for Kentucky on September 2nd will unquestionably be how pressure is applied to Teddy Bridgewater by the Linemen. In past seasons, the need for a sturdy line wasn’t as prevalent due to Linebackers the caliber of Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan, but with that duo departed alongside many others, the need for solid play from the line is now undeniable. If the front three can pressure Bridgewater into making rushed decisions (like the Belk Bowl vs. NC State), the burden would be lifted off a Safety and Linebacking corps that is young, thin, and injured. It’s a tall task, but past evidence shows that Louisville’s line is prone to allowing pressure/sacks.
Currently, there’s not an individual unit match-up that will be as important as Kentucky’s Defensive Line against Louisville’s Offensive Line. If Louisville corrects their past issues of allowing immense pressure, Bridgewater should have little problem scanning the field for an excellent receiving corps. However, if Kentucky’s Defensive Line were to apply great amounts of pressure to the Cardinal backfield, forcing the Sophomore Quarterback to make quick decisions, an otherwise outmatched defense would have a great possibility for an upset.