It’s hard to say exactly what kind of game we will get this weekend. On one hand, we know Louisville has a great team with solid leadership and a potent offense led by a Heisman Trophy candidate. On the other hand, they have executed two blowout games against teams that hardly belonged on the same field. The truth about this Louisville Cardinals football team surely lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but just how far on either end they actually are will be figured out in the Governor’s Cup battle.
Kentucky comes into the weekend having played a relatively easy slate as well, but Western Kentucky is no slouch. Granted, the Hilltoppers were blasted by Tennessee — a point many Cardinal fans are driving home — but the turnovers really tell the story there. The Wildcats have played a better schedule thus far, and there is no debating that. Either way, we will try to dissect Louisville’s game and cut through their padded stats.
Louisville is led by Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater. We all know how dangerous he can be. Though he is capable of taking off on foot, Bridgewater is described as a pocket passer — and a dang good one at that. His 68.5 completion percentage in 2012 put him sixth-best in the country, and he is off to an even better start this season. With 752 passing yards in the team’s first two games versus 217 on the ground by the top three tailbacks, it is clear the offense will flow through Bridgewater. He is elusive, and blazing fast in his reads and delivery. Getting pressure on Bridgewater will be a focus for defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot this week. You simply cannot allow him to sit in the pocket; your secondary will be decimated.
Catching passes for Bridgewater is a variety of speed and possession receivers, including DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Robert Clark, Gerald Christian, and Eli Rogers. The former two are his primary targets, but all five wide outs have at least six receptions so far.
Kentucky’s defense will have to show up this weekend if the Cats want it to even be a ballgame. Louisville will throw the ball and throw the ball some more. After getting torched by Western in the season opener, the Wildcats stepped it up in week two, allowing just 23 passing yards to Miami, and 122 yards of total offense. What’s more, the defense held the Redhawks to just 1-for-16 on third down, and kept the ground game contained to just 2.3 yards-per-rush. It will need that kind of output again.
Keeping the opposing ground game at bay may be the key difference in the game. Seventeen straight games it has been, that the team with the most rushing yards has won the game. That is every year since 1996. Sometimes the difference is big, sometimes it’s small, but every year the winner of the game has the most rushing yards. Something has got to give. It may seem obvious that more rushing yards will translate to more points, but as a comparison, there is no correlation with the passing yards. So controlling the rushing attack this week is crucial for success. Eastern Kentucky focused on the run and held the Cards 107 yards on the ground. Granted, it was a pick your poison game plan, but that should give the Wildcats some bit of confidence that it can be contained.
And for Kentucky, the Air Raid will get its first real test this week against a high caliber defense. Wide receivers were finding gaping holes in the Miami zone coverage last week, but the windows for Max Smith will be much tighter this time out. Smith’s passes weren’t exactly crisp, so any wobbly floaters could easily be going the other way. The quarterback play depends on establishing the underneath routes and relying heavily on beating the Cards in openings on the blitz. The Louisville defense is fast, aggressive, and capable of smothering wide outs. Opportunities will be limited, so capitalizing on those chances will be clutch.
While the season is still young and competition is miles apart, the success of the team in key areas like the red zone and field goals is skewed. However, a big takeaway is third down. Louisville has simply steamrolled over Ohio and Eastern to the tune of 20-for-29. Kentucky on the other hand, has struggled offensively converting on third down, going just 10-for-26. The big ticket, however, is the defensive effort has been stellar; holding Western and Miami to a combined 3-for-26.
Surely many short-yardage third-down tries will emerge this weekend, and just how those plays are executed for Louisville is somewhat of a mystery, as it simply has not been in those situations yet. Of course it has a big bruiser tailback in Michael Dyer who has not seen much game action yet this season, and its starting back Senorise Perry is elite, then throw in a third option in Dominique Brown and you have a monster running back committee. All three are legitimate threats in short yardage behind a better-than-average Louisville offensive line. Though the team has a tendency to pass the ball, it is more than capable of a ground and pound.
Kentucky impressed a lot of people (excluding the KSR comments section) last week with 24 points in the 1st quarter. Expecting that kind of start against Louisville is unrealistic, but putting up a score or two early is an absolute must if the team wants fans in the stands by the 4th quarter. Louisville is going to score a lot of points — the best thing Kentucky can do is keep matching them.
When the Cards decide to run the ball, go for the strip; a turnover early in the game would work wonders on the morale of the team and fans. It is going to be a high scoring affair, so any defensive stops will be more than valuable. Bridgewater will get his yards through the air, the Cats need to focus on exploiting the running backs’ miscues.
This Governor’s Cup battle could either be the best thing or the worst thing ever for Big Blue Nation. It could very easily turn into a blowout in the blink of an eye if the Cats play tight like they did against Western. But play loose and with that underdog “nothing to lose” mentality, and things could get interesting.