It’s officially Louisville Hate Week, and for the first time in three years, pressure of a bowl game isn’t on the line for UK in the Governor’s Cup. Kentucky has already reached their “goal” on the season, so anything beyond this point is gravy, which certainly puts a new spin on the highly-anticipated rivalry matchup.
From the start of the year, however, UK fans have been dreading this game for obvious reasons. Lamar Jackson is the Heisman frontrunner, and UK has notoriously struggled against even mediocre mobile quarterbacks. The second Jackson entered the UK-UL game last year, the script was flipped and the Cards immediately erased a 21-point deficit to win in dominating fashion. The Wildcats have improved from last year and have found an identity on offense, but UofL has developed into an offensive powerhouse and are a sure-fire top ten team in the nation.
It will be a tall task for the Wildcats to pull off the upset, but the Cards have proven this season they are beatable, specifically going back to last week’s embarrassing performance against Houston. Here’s what Kentucky has to do to have a fighting chance:
Dominate time of possession
You have to keep Lamar Jackson off the field, and a good way to make that happen is by dominating the time of possession. Nearly every football post that goes up on this site mentions the star-power in UK’s rushing attack of Boom Williams, Benny Snell, and Jojo Kemp, but it’s impossible to not bring it up. They’re putting up record numbers, with Boom and Benny being UK’s first dual 1000-yard rushers in program history, and Kemp putting in work as the team’s spark plug. The ground-and-pound game has worked wonders for UK, and could really limit UofL’s opportunities on offense by simply not letting the ball get in Lamar Jackson’s hands.
Many fans worry about UofL’s impressive run defense taking away the Wildcats’ offensive identity, but fail to realize they have put up these stout defensive numbers against awful rushing teams. 10/11 of the Card’s opponents this season have ranked in the lower half of the entire country in terms of rushing offense, with six being outside the top 100. In comparison, UK ranks inside the top 20 in the nation, far and away UofL’s toughest opponent on the ground game. UofL has playmakers on defense, but they haven’t seen a rushing attack like UK’s all year long.
The problem here, however, is what we saw two weeks ago against Josh Dobbs and the Tennessee offense. Kentucky beat UT in the time of possession department by over 11 minutes, putting up 635 yards of total offense, 443 of which coming on the ground, but still lost the game by two touchdowns. Tennessee averaged over ten yards per offensive play against the Wildcats, an absolutely ridiculous statistic that can be repeated on Saturday if the Kentucky defense can’t slow down a similar offensive attack.
This brings us to our next key.
When the defense DOES get on the field, UK must…
Contain Lamar Jackson
You will not stop Lamar from putting up big numbers, but you can absolutely contain him. UK may not have the elite defensive line we saw with Houston last weekend, but the Cougars have given UK the perfect blueprint to at least go off of on how to beat the high octane Cardinal offense. Put pressure on Jackson, make him uncomfortable, and keep him off the outside edges. Josh Dobbs was able to get outside and run all day long two weeks ago, and Jackson will put up even larger numbers if UK goes with the same defensive approach.
Lamar Jackson does not need to be shut down to defeat Louisville, he just needs to be slowed down. Louisville turns the ball over a good bit, and if the UK defense can force some three-and-outs along with a turnover or two, the offense may be able to do most of the work for them.
If Kentucky can “ugly” the game up, they’ve got a shot.
Use lack of optimism to your advantage
Absolutely NOBODY is expecting UK to win this game, which honestly works in the Wildcats’ favor- if they let it. After getting trounced on the road against Houston, nearly every fan and analyst is expecting the Cards to be fired up and put up a million points on a Wildcat defense that has yet to proven they can do anything to stop a mobile quarterback.
In reality, this mentality may be the exact opposite of the actual result on Saturday. Louisville is a 24.5 point favorite, are officially out of the Playoff race, and really don’t have much to play for at this point other than a 10-2 record. If the Cards come in cocky, assuming they’re going to walk all over UK’s defense, they may end up getting hurt in the long run.
UofL has played down to three lesser opponents this season, Wake Forest, Duke, and Virginia, and ended up either nearly losing the game, or needing a ridiculous fourth quarter performance to solidify the victory. Could they shut down, overlooking the “lesser” opponent in hopes of an Orange Bowl opportunity? I guess we’ll have to see.
Go out there guns a’blazing, and shock the world, Cats.