– The most important tidbit in the Governor’s Cup rivalry doesn’t come from high-powered passing offenses. In the last 12 meetings (maybe 13) the winner of the rushing battle has won the game. With the Cats coming off back-to-back 200+ rushing yard games and the Cards only posting 78 yards on the ground vs. D-II EKU, the scale seems to tip favorably in Kentucky’s favor. Coach Stoops doesn’t see the Louisville offense as lopsided as it does on paper. They have a very physical run game between the tackles with Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer that prevents defenses from sitting back in coverage in an attempt to catch Bridgewater when he makes a mistake.
“You start watching their team in depth, and they’re good across the board. I think they do a nice job of keeping you off balance. They threaten you with their run game and they love taking their shots on play-action off of it because they’re very skilled at wide receiver. Bridgewater does a heck of a job with the play-fakes and getting the ball down the field. For a defensive coach through all of the years I’ve been doing it, always the teams that threaten you are the ones that are balanced- the teams that can pound it on the run and have some physicality about them, and then they’re skilled outside…They put you in a run-pass conflict all of the time and they’re good at what they do.”
– Penalties have been a BIG problem for the young Cats so far, giving opposing teams 152 yards on 16 penalties through just two games. This week the margin of error is slimmer than ever before, with the staff placing an extra emphasis on mitigating mental mistakes this week, “We got to get some of that cleaned up. Some of it (happened) when we were trying to be more aggressive, but that doesn’t mean lose your sense and do silly things out there. We’re not good enough to overcome those decisions.” The penalties killed a few crucial WKU drives, with UK’s athleticism prevailing against Miami.
– Even with the UK defense featuring the nation’s best sack machine Za’Darius Smith, Teddy Bridgewater is a different type of beast. Bridgewater leads the nation’s 5th best passing offense, with Coach Stoops commending his stature in the pocket, “he plays fast without being in a hurry.” The Cats will need a big game from Bud Dupree, who acknowledges the tall task as hand this week, “He’s pretty good; the #1 Quarterback in the nation, and probably the #1 Quarterback in the draft this year. We have to have good practice preparing for him and any of the things that can happen. Good Quarterbacks make big plays happen.”
After WKU’s Quarterback thread through the UK defense in Week 1, the defensive line vastly improved in one week, which Bud attributes to playing more disciplined, “We played assignment football better this week than last week (against WKU). Last week everyone was trying to do too much, trying to be Superman on defense when we should’ve been doing our job playing our spot. We played gap assignments better this week and it made a big difference in the game.” Gap responsibility is important in the rush defense, but this week the emphasis must carry over to the pass rush. Playing a versatile QB like Bridgewater requires a disciplined pass rush as a whole: if only Bud and Z are getting good rushes, it leaves the middle of the field wide open for a QB scramble (and vice versa).
– Fans enjoy the football rivalry as much off the field as they do on the field. UK and UL have been in recruiting battles more often than not recently, but for Coach Stoops this game really doesn’t affect recruiting; it didn’t at Florida State and he doubts it will in this rivalry, “It didn’t impact recruiting at Florida Stateâ€‘Florida, it really didn’t. A lot of our guys were committed before that game, to be honest with you. I don’t know whether it will impact recruiting or not. I really don’t know. We have quite a few guys committed. I think they do too.”
– The preparation during Week 1 was dramatically different than last week’s game preparations. The team needed to show the resiliency to overcome a disappointing loss, resiliency that was a reflection of the coach’s attitudes during Week 2. Jonathan George believes their work ethic was a valuable lesson for the young team, “You could tell a big difference in practice, everybody was more focused. The coaches came out more intense; they pushed us through every little thing. The players responded well to that toughness from the coaches. It was a major help because now we realize that our margin of error isn’t that big and we have to come out every week and be focused because we don’t want to experience another let down like the first week. ”
– Sometimes a rivalry is bigger for the fans than it is the players (i.e. Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t know who Laettner was), but this football game has produced some hate for guys that have been playing the rivalry for multiple years. Adam Lefkoe asked both Bud and Jonathan George if they hated Louisville; they didn’t give U of Smell any bulletin board material, but you could tell they wanted to. George said, “I won’t say hate but there’s definitely a dislike factor,” saying, “I’m not a fan of the red team.” New players aren’t as engrossed in the rivalry as those that have suffered through both wins and losses, but social media has kep them informed that #LouisvilleHateWeek shouldn’t be taken lightly.
– The atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium before the game was exponentially better than last season, but there were still only 54,000 butts in the seats. Neal Brown charged the fan base to Pack Commonwealth after the game Saturday, with Stoops echoing the same sentiment today, “I would expect us to have a full house. I would anticipate there will be no tickets by the end of the week. Our fans have not disappointed us yet. So, sure, I’ll throw out a challenge to get them there. We need them there. Then it’s our job to go deliver and play well. I think you’ll see us prepared to play a great game this week, and you’re going to see a team that’s excited about this opportunity.
-The Cats are 2-3 against ranked Dirty Birds, so don’t say this week is Mission Impossible 5. @RoushKSR