If there were ever a reason for Kentucky fans to be optimistic about the upcoming schedule, it is that the Louisville Cardinals, despite being ranked No. 7 in the country, will arguably be the “easiest” game in the next handful of weeks. With No. 18 Florida, No. 1 Alabama, and No. 13 South Carolina looming, this Governor’s Cup game could very well be the Cats best shot at a victory in the next four weeks. True, the Gators and Gamecocks both lost in week two, but the rivalry factor always counts for a close contest.
What may have been one of the most lopsided games in recent memory last year with the two teams miles apart in terms of talent and execution level — a Cardinals team on the rise and a Wildcats team continuing its slow decline with the previous coaching staff — was still an 18-point game in the end. Better teams have suffered worse losses.
Louisville and Charlie Strong are in a “prove it to the world” season in 2013. The schedule is obnoxiously easy, so even winning games by 40+ points week in and week out isn’t impressing too many people. The team will have to go undefeated, and hope for the SEC and Pac-12, or maybe another major conference to beat up on itself if it wants a shot at the title game. Even then it seems like a long shot. What was the Cardinals toughest opponent in the pre-season, Cincinnati, was dismantled by Illinois (a two-win team from a season ago) last week, and the Bearcats’ starting quarterback is out for the year.
Seriously, Kentucky is more than likely one of its two toughest games left, next to Rutgers and maybe Central Florida. What that idea does to the Louisville players’ psyche remains to be seen.
It did not take long for the season opener of the 2012 season to turn sour for Joker Phillips and the Cats. Kentucky received the opening kickoff in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and Max Smith began the first drive of the game by handing the ball off to CoShik Williams for a 5-yard gain. The offense moved the chains and looked decent, but stalled eight plays later forcing Landon Foster to punt the ball away. On the receiving end was Louisville’s Kai Dominquez and he fumbled back to the 1-yard line where the Cards recovered. With their backs against the wall U of L took the field, and over the next 8:21, Teddy Bridgewater and Co. would march its opening drive 99 yards down the field for a touchdown, and convert a 2-point try to open up an 8-0 lead on the Cats. It was a crushing blow to not only start the game, but the entire season. It would really set the tone for the rest of the year.
Kentucky’s next possession would begin with a little more than three minutes on the clock in the 1st, and would end just at the start of the 2nd on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Tyler Robinson. The Cards would answer on its next possession thanks to a six-play, 2:39 drive that ended with a 47-yard run by Senorise Perry. A three-and-out and a fumble would be all that the UK offense could muster the rest of the 1st half, and it took a 22-7 deficit into halftime.
The Wildcats came out of the tunnel with nothing to lose, and Joker Phillips’ gutsy play call shocked everybody; an onside kick was recovered by the Cats, and clearly some wind was taken out of the U of L sails. Unfortunately, the opportunity was wasted when the offense struggled to move the ball and McIntosh missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. Louisville would score the next 10 points before the Cats found the end zone again, as Max Smith led an eight-play, 65-yard drive with nothing but air mail… Connecting with Daryl Collins, Aaron Boyd, Collins again, and three straight completions to La’Rod King for a touchdown.
That would be the last of the scoring for the game, and the Cats went down 32-14. A chance to make it close early in the 4th was again wasted thanks to a fumble, and the Cards went conservative to ice the game in the final frame.
The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry dates back to the early 1900s when the two teams first squared off in 1912, which resulted in a 41-0 victory for the Wildcats in the inaugural meeting. Kentucky won again the next three years before the series took a hiatus until 1922, which Kentucky won, and again in 1924. UK opened the series against U of L with seven straight wins, and the Cardinals never scored a single point; being outscored 220-0 by Kentucky.
But those pre-modern era games mean very little nowadays. The series was revived in 1994 and has been played yearly ever since. Obviously the tides of the two programs have shifted, as Louisville built its football program status with the help of a few legendary coaches, while Kentucky struggled to find victories in the series in the early and middle part of the renewal.
The high point for the Cats in the series obviously came in the 2007-10 seasons where UK reeled off four straight wins over the Cards. Kragthrope happened, and Rich Brooks took advantage.
Kentucky owns the all-time series with a 14-11 record, and has outscored Louisville 27.7 — 22.6. However, in the modern era series, Kentucky trails the Cardinals with an 8-11 record, but has kept the final score close by an average score of 29.7 — 24.8.
Andre Woodson (UK, 2007) — Rich Brooks may have been the figurehead of the Kentucky football renaissance several years ago, but Andre Woodson was the workhorse that made it happen. Who can forget the 2007 showdown that pitted the lowly Wildcats against No. 9 Louisville? I think you remember how it ends. More on that later…
Derrick Locke (UK, 2009-10) — As one of Kentucky’s all-time greatest running backs, Derrick Locke led the Cats to two straight victories over the Cardinals. Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb stole some of the spotlight, but his 119-yard effort in 2009 cannot be overshadowed. He came back in 2010 with a 125-yard output, to go along with a pair of touchdowns.
Brian Brohm (U of L, 2007) — The hometown hero helped to create that barn-burner in 2007 that many Cats would look to as a turning point for the program under Rich Brooks. Brohm threw for 366 yards on 28 completions in 2007, and tossed two touchdowns to counter the efforts of Andre Woodson. If not for the late-game heroics by the Cats, Brohm would have easily won game MVP.
Dave Ragone (U of L, 2000) — You have to go back a little further to find an impactful performance by a Cardinal in a game that actually mattered. This quarterback showdown had Dave Ragone matched up against Kentucky’s Hefty Lefty. Jared Lorenzen tossed for 322 yards and three touchdowns, but added three interceptions. His counterpart threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, but kept himself off the turnover column. The “lightning game” that caused a 114 minute rain delay ended in overtime on a 25-yard scamper by Tony Stallings.
BIGGEST MOMENT FOR UK
“Woodson from the gun, play-fake, stepping up, he’s throwing deep down the near slide line… HE’S GOT JOHNSON! TWENTY! TEN! FIVE! TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY!!!”
Is there any debate? When you think of big-time plays in big-time moments of this rivalry, there is no better than beating a top-ten team on your turf. Stevie got loose, and in a single play defined a period of Kentucky football supremacy over little brother. This play helped build the program to a national prominence (despite it being lost more recently) and turned a history of losing into a period of huge success.
Louisville will finish its season playing a bunch of nobodies, it will go to a BCS bowl, and it may or may not win. Then U of L will move to the ACC in 2014 and we can all get on with playing real football. We will rinse and repeat this Governor’s Cup game then, and Kentucky will have a load of new faces and talent in the lineup. You hear it all the time, but this team is going to be a lot of fun to watch in a couple of years.
The rest of this season will be rough on the Cats. We all know that. The gauntlet of a schedule UK has to go through will cause bumps, bruises, and inevitably some losses. But fans should be looking deeper than the final score in these games; it’s about progress. It is like beating a dead horse at this point, but Kentucky will get better. And it has already put its right foot forward in that rebuilding process with a huge offensive showing against Miami last week. Now it must continue that march with a high octane performance this week against the Cardinals.
If Neal Brown can reproduce what he did against the Redhawks, and the defense shows it is capable of making a stop against a respectable offense, there are plenty of reasons to be happy — even if the final score doesn’t go our way.