In a seemingly quiet Governor’s Cup game week, the Cats and Cards are preparing for Saturday’s showdown. Louisville is favored; but after digging in on statistics, schedules, and other factors, I wouldn’t be comfortable declaring either a prohibitive favorite.
Here’s an interpretation of position group analysis:
Lamar Jackson or Kyle Bolin? Most likely both based upon situation, weather, down-distance, and momentum. True freshman Lamar Jackson has, at times, put on a freakish athletic show and, on other occasions, reminded Cardinal fans that he is just one year removed from high school. Jackson is most dangerous with his legs; however, he’s shown improvement as a passer. Lexington’s Kyle Bolin was forced into action last year and with the help of DeVante Parker, beat the Cats 44-40. Bolin is a pure pocket-passing quarterback. Within the U of L offense, it all starts and finishes with the quarterback position.
Drew Barker will be making his second start in the biggest game of the year. While I don’t feel Barker is easy to rattle, the moment is going to be awfully big for the redshirt freshman. His first start was efficient as he managed the elements and explosive run game for a 58-10 win over Charlotte. Drew will be helped by a trio of capable running backs.
Running back: Kentucky
Both Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp went over the 100-yard mark against Charlotte. Sihiem King added 5 carries for 90 yards as Mikel Horton remains at the ready. A new wrinkle in a jumbo/short yardage package was the addition of 336-pound fullback, Jacob Hyde. Kentucky is coming off of 415 yards against Charlotte and 225 against a Vanderbilt defense that was only allowing 113 per game.
Louisville’s leading rusher is quarterback,Lamar Jackson. RB Brandon Radcliff has gained 569 yards and scored 5 touchdowns.
Offensive line: Even
Against Charlotte, the Cats had something going on the right side with Cole Mosier and George Asafo-Adjei. It became obvious that part of the Wildcat OL struggles correlated with Asafo-Adjei’s absence due to injury. Left tackle Jordan Swindle will have his hands full on Saturday and will require RB/TE assistance versus Louisville edge rushers. Kentucky has allowed 27 QB sacks and 74 tackles for loss (TFL). UK is averaging 379 yards and 25.3 points per game.
The Cardinals have given up 43 QB sacks and 86 TFLs. Starting three freshmen has been a trial by fire for the U of L front five. Even with the overabundance of lost yardage plays, Louisville is averaging 398 yards per game and 28 points.
Cards average 253 passing yards per game as it spreads catches throughout a young yet effective receiving corps. Replacing DeVante Parker has proven to be as challenging as Kentucky finding its next Bud Dupree. James Staples and James Quick lead with catches, yards, and touchdowns. TE Mickey Crum has developed into a chain moving target.
Kentucky’s passing yardage has declined as the season progressed. It’s now averaging 210 yards per game. Dorian Baker leads the team in catches as Garrett Johnson tops the receiving corps in yardage. CJ Conrad and Darryl Long have not been targeted nor thrown to; however both are potential first down producing pass catchers.
Defensive line: Even
This advantage or lack thereof may surprise. But, following research, Kentucky and Louisville have two defensive linemen in its Top 10 tacklers. For Kentucky, Cory Johnson is third and Farrington Huguennin is sixth.
Sheldin Rankins leads the Cardinal defensive front with 48 tackles, 5 QB sacks, and 10 TFLs. Rankins will be the best defensive lineman in the game and is assured to play on Sundays. DeAngelo Brown has 6.5 TFLs and 2 QB sacks.
The Cards are deep and talented at this position. In the preseason, UofL LBs were considered potentially the best in the ACC. Keith Kelsey, James Burgess, DeVante Fields, Keith Brown, and Trevon Young are active, disruptive, and aggressive. An extremely high number of TFLs and QB sacks/hurries statistically supports: 30 QB sacks and 80 Tackles for Loss.
Louisville has intercepted 15 passes. Its secondary is not as dynamic as 2014, but still a solid group led by former Georgia Bulldog Josh Harvey-Clemons. He’s joined at safety by Charles Williams. Corners are fellow former Dawg Shaq Wiggins and Trumaine Washington.
Kentucky’s true freshmen cornerbacks are gaining momentum and confidence with each snap. Chris Westry and Derrick Baity will be challenged on Saturday. The Wildcat safeties are its only true, SEC two deep at the position. AJ Stamps and freshman Mike Edwards are this week’s starters with Darius West and Marcus McWilson in the rotation. Given the Cats’ 8 interceptions compared to 15 for the Cardinals, this analysis was close. Louisville has played poor offenses in the closing portion of its schedule.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Even
Kicker Austin MacGinnis’ health is again under the microscope. Miles Butler has ably filled in for the All-SEC performer. Landon Foster has somewhat returned to 2014 form. Governor’s Cup field position battle will be critical.
Louisville’s Traveon Samuel returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, but other than that, the two teams are a wash.
- Louisville best position group: Linebacker
- Kentucky best position group: Safety
- If it rains: Advantage Kentucky
- Kentucky wins at home if it plays like it did vs: Missouri (When Maty Mauk existed)
- Louisville wins if it plays like it did on the road vs: Perhaps NC State. Louisville has not played well on the road in 2015.
What does this mean?
Numbers give the Cardinals a slight edge. The game could come down to which freshman quarterback makes the least mistakes (Lamar Jackson or Drew Barker) and which struggling offensive line plays the best; however, in a rivalry game, the unexpected is expected. Last year’s game broke the trend of the winner goes to the team with the highest rushing totals. If the game comes down to the ground game, Kentucky would have the advantage.
For the Cats to win, it must stay out of certain passing situations. Louisville’s pass rushers are just too good for Kentucky’s offensive line to sustain. Conversely, UK’s pass rushers have to produce QB sacks and TFLs as field position will play a critical role.
As for who wins? Vegas says Louisville. BBN says UK. Card Nation says UofL. As for me, Saturday is a toss-up dependent upon situational execution, field position, and turnovers. For the Wildcats, 1st down offensive plays cannot continue to lead to 2nd and 10 plus. Passes have to be caught. Tackles cannot be missed.
Sit back and enjoy, this one may go down to the wire.