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Kentucky Delivers Statement In Governor’s Cup Thrashing

The stage was set for the nooner on Thanksgiving Saturday and both fan bases were very confident heading into the Governor’s Cup. It was a very strong debut season for Scott Satterfield at Louisville, but that train got blown off the tracks by Kentucky in the 45-13 beatdown. In front of a drenched crowd at Kroger Field, the Wildcats put on a show setting a school-record and putting the clamps on the sport’s most explosive offense.

Bowling is next, but first it’s time to put a final bow on Kentucky’s 17th victory over the University of Louisville.

Offense

Kentucky collected 521 yards (517 rushing, 4 passing) on just 42 snaps. The 12.40 yards per play total is easily the highest mark of the Mark Stoops era and may be a program record. The Wildcats put up a school-record for rushing yards in a game and they did it thanks to another remarkable performance from their superstar.

Lynn Bowden Jr. rushed for 284 yards on 22 carries on his way to scoring four touchdowns. The quarterback finished the regular season with 1,235 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 8.18 yards per attempt. That is truly incredible. The superstar athlete was remarkable in the read option game against Louisville.

UK’s 517 rushing yards were a program record and this offense finished the regular season the top rushing offense in the SEC by a good margin. The 3,293 rushing yards for the season were the most in program history and on Saturday’s record breaking day, Bowden got plenty of assistance. UK’s three backs combined for 233 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns. Christopher Rodriguez Jr. had 125 yards on nine carries and joined the big play party late.

Kentucky had six plays that went for 20-plus yards and three of those went for 60-plus yards. Kentucky had just 42 plays in the football game, but time of possession is not needed when you can produced explosive plays on nearly every drive. It was total domination from start to finish. The offensive line manhandled a small Louisville front and the receivers on the perimeter held blocks long enough for the big runs to happen.

After losing their top two quarterbacks, Eddie Gran found a way to develop the most potent rushing attack in college football. Kentucky finished fourth nationally in yards per carry and fifth in rush yards per game. In front of them are three option teams and Ohio State. That is some elite stuff.

Defense

Kentucky held Louisville to 318 yards (209 rushing, 109 passing) on 70 snaps. Scott Satterfield’s offense put up 4.54 yards per play and this was their second lowest total of the season. Only Clemson had more success against an offense that finished top-40 nationally in yards per play. This was a masterpiece from Mark Stoops and Brad White.

The Wildcats produced a season-high 13 tackles for loss and collected six sacks for the second game in a row. Kentucky’s front dominated an overachieving offensive line and really did whatever they wanted throughout the game. UK’s inside guys got constant penetration and the outside linebackers set the edge. When Louisville was in obvious pass situations, the edge rush made them pay.

Boogie Watson led the way and he had the most productive game of his redshirt junior season. The Sam linebacker had six tackles, notched two sacks, and recovered a fumble on the final play. The former low three-star recruit from the D.C. area now has 13.5 career sacks and should easily finish his career in the top-five on UK’s sack chart. He wasn’t the only edge player that produced.

Joshua Paschal and Jordan Wright combined for eight tackles and three tackles for loss from the Jack spot. For the third game in a row, Jamin Davis led the team in tackles off the bench and he recorded a huge third down sack on Louisville’s first possession out of half that seemed to bang up Micale Cunningham. This group set the tone, but once again UK proved that their pass defense is among the best in college football.

Louisville entered the football game with one of the most efficient and explosive passing offenses in the country. Micale Cunningham had been on fire entering this week and he got off to a hot start on the first possession after hitting Tutu Atwell for a 33-yard touchdown to cap off a 9-play, 75-yard drive to start after the game. After that, however, it was all Kentucky.

The Wildcats limited Cunningham to just six completions and recorded six sacks. The Wildcats were sticky with their coverage and there were never any breakdowns following the first touchdown. Evan Conley was brought off the bench in the second half and did not perform any better. In all, the two quarterbacks had two turnovers and UofL’s 107.66 quarterback rating was the lowest of the season since the Clemson loss. Tutu Atwell entered the game as one of the most dangerous skill players in college football and UK held him to just four receptions and no big plays after the first touchdown. Kentucky was the best defense Louisville had seen in awhile and it showed.

The Cards were just 6 of 16 on third downs, had zero red zone possessions and a handful of procedure penalties. UofL has a very run heavy attack and they were able to collect over 200 yards rushing. However, they needed 51 attempts to get there and only averaged 4.1 yards per attempt. Javian Hawkins recorded his seventh 100-yard rushing performance of the season, but UK held him to just four yards per carry when you take out his 56-yard touchdown before the half.

The offensive growth gets a lot of attention, but how this young defense has grown is really impressive. The group has a very, very high ceiling entering 2020.

Special Teams

There’s no hiding from the fact that placekicking has been a huge issue for Kentucky this season, but this time it was the other team who was having issues.

Louisville missed their first extra point and that allowed Kentucky to immediately take the lead following their first score. In the next line of the kicker shuffle, Matt Ruffolo stepped in and drilled a 45-yard field goal to extend the lead following a failed fake punt attempt from the Cardinals.

Thanks to that stop and more masterful work by Max Duffy, Kentucky dominated the field position battle. Louisville had only one possession start outside of their own 30 while the Wildcats had six possessions start better than that. The special teams set the table for a tough offensive day for the Cardinals.

There have been a lot of up and downs for this group, but they kept Hassan Hall, one of the best kick returners in college football, at bay and made kicks when given the opportunities. Josh Ali did a fine job fielding punts and the third phase most definitely helped Kentucky win the game.

Outlook

After the ugly three-game losing streak to start SEC play, Kentucky found themselves in a really tough spot. The quarterback position had been gutted due to injuries and a young defense was going through some pretty obvious growing pains. However, the first bye week came at the absolute perfect time and from that point forward, UK turned their rushing attack into a rolling ball of butcher knives while their defense slowly developed into a top-25 unit.

The results were a 5-2 record to finish the season and bowling for the fourth consecutive season. The Wildcats broke a ton of school rushing records while the defense hasn’t give up more than 17 points in five games. UK created an identity, rode it, and found a way to have a successful season despite some major speed bumps.

It all ended with an explosion on Saturday as Kentucky throttled the Red Team at Kroger Field. Scott Satterfield had this group playing some good football, but they were totally outclassed in the Governor’s Cup. The win gives the Big Blue Nation some major bragging rights and some much needed recruiting ammo to close strong on what will be a historic 2020 haul.

Most importantly a statement was made. It seems that there have been some issues already with recruiting and even some scuttlebutt that Louisville may be contacting players on UK’s roster. You could tell as soon as the UT Martin game was over that this meeting with the Cardinals was going to be different. Louisville never matched the intensity and physicality of Kentucky from the opening snap and the result was one of the most lopsided games in series history. It ended up being one of the most satisfying victories of the Mark Stoops era.

Kentucky enters December playing some high quality football and will look to pick up another big non-conference win in the bowl game, but that isn’t the story. The story is that the staff figured out a way to build a winning football team among a whole bunch of traffic and that should get you excited. Lynn Bowden Jr. is the most versatile player in college football and the staff realized that early on. They put the ball in his hands and let him make plays. Meanwhile, everyone else on the offense bought in and blocked their tails off. A young defense took monster steps forward in what was suppose to be a major bridge year before the loss of Davonte Robinson. We just witnessed one of the best coaching jobs in college football.

Mark Stoops has an all-star staff and is developing into a top notch head coach.

Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR