The annual Governor’s Cup match-up is a mere two weeks away and each side of the rivalry is laying out reasons for a potential victory. September 2nd’s match-up in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium will see a battle of two teams who are starting in much different positions as the season begins, but the result here could alter the course of both seasons drastically. It seems clichÃ©, but this game will be won in the trenches. All-SEC Second Team selection, Larry Warford, and 3-year letter, Matt Smith, headline Kentucky’s Offensive Line, but there are some questions about depth and youth outside of those two entering the season. Louisville’s Defensive Line, however, returns just one starter in Brandon Dunn, but has a more mature set of backups across the board than does Kentucky. This individual battle will prove instrumental in victory for both red and blue, but which of these two units will reign supreme on the 2nd of September?
Louisville’s Defensive Line
In Charlie Strong’s first two seasons as Head Coach of the Cardinals, the rushing defense, particularly his front four, have been the main strength of his team. The past two seasons have seen Louisville allow under four yards per carry on defense, 3.98 in 2010 and 3.0 in 2011 (53rd and 9th nationally). Part of Louisville’s recent defensive success in the rushing game comes due to the aggressive nature of their play calling, ranking top-20 in sacks forced the past two seasons. The 1:30 mark in this video shows an outstanding example of their assertive defensive play calling against Kentucky last season. Louisville showed five men at the line but only rushed four, despite that they were still able to beat Kentucky’s Offensive Line quickly, registering a sack upon Morgan Newton. While Strong and Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford’s scheme has proven effective in the past, it remains to be seen how a unit with only one returning starter will behave in their opening game which happens to be against their biggest rival. The biggest key for the Cardinals’ front four will be ensuring that they force enough pressure on Kentucky’s passing attack, which was that most inefficient in the nation last season, coming in at 4.8 yards per attempt. If Strong and crew can force Kentucky to become a one-dimensional offense, it could become a long day at the office for Joker and his offense.
Kentucky’s Offensive Line
Perhaps the greatest strength of Kentucky’s thin offense that returns six starters is the returning experience on the Offensive Line (which returns two of the previously mentioned six). Larry Warford and Matt Smith will be required to do most of the grunt-work in the early portion of the 2012 season, which will see players like Zach West (Frosh.) and Darrian Miller (Soph.) gaining starting experience on the fly. A massive issue in Kentucky’s poor offense last year was the passing game, in particular the amount of sacks allowed. While finishing 104th nationally (allowing 35 sacks on the year) is bad for any offensive line, it’s a two way street, the indecisive Quarterback play must be partially be blamed for that too. Rushing efficiency is another key area in which the O-Line aids the offense, but that wasn’t a strength either last season, finishing 98th nationally only gaining 3.48 yards per carry. Injuries were partly to blame for these inefficiencies, but skill level was another driving factor as well. For Kentucky to win this individual match-up in the opening game, allowing time for Maxwell Smith to scan the field will be paramount for success. Effective blocking for a much improved (Maxwell) Smith and upper-class running backs from Warford and (Matt) Smith among others, in my mind, will be the driving factor for a Wildcat victory on September 2nd.
“The Battle of the Trenches,” clichÃ© as it sounds, will be prevalent in the Labor Day Weekend showdown between Louisville and Kentucky, but which side will win this battle? It’s near impossible to say; on one hand you have a Defensive Line returning only one starter, but they’re the home team who runs an aggressive scheme season after season. On the other, you have an Offensive Line who returns a legitimate NFL talent alongside a 3-year letter winner, but is on the road breaking in young players from a bad (and injury plagued) offense last season. It seemingly is near equal depending on how you view it, but which side will reign supreme? Only time will tell.