Last week was a rough one for the Louisville Cardinals. After not getting one of the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Cardinals suffered a humiliating 36-10 loss to the Houston Cougars last Thursday night. While Louisville no longer has any shot at making the playoff, the Cardinals still have pride and possible bowl positioning to play for as they host the Kentucky Wildcats in the battle for the Governor’s Cup.
Kentucky would like nothing more than to add to its bowl résumé by picking up its first road victory over a ranked opponent since 2002. The Wildcats are looking to end a five-game losing streak to their Bluegrass State rivals. At least Kentucky doesn’t have to worry about needing this game to go to the postseason, as the Wildcats became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010 with last week’s 49-13 win over FCS member Austin Peay.
The all-time series between Kentucky and Louisville is tied at 14-14. In last year’s meeting, the Wildcats led 24-7 at halftime at home before the Cardinals stormed back with 31 unanswered points to win 38-24.
Kentucky at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Louisville -24.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Lamar Jackson
In the stunning loss to Houston last week, the Heisman Trophy front-runner was under duress entire game. The Cougars sacked Jackson 11 times and kept the pressure constant. The game plan worked, as he finished 20-for-43 passing for 211 yards and a touchdown, as Louisville was held to its lowest point total of the season, nearly 40 points fewer than it had been averaging (49.6 ppg, No. 1 in the FBS) entering the game.
Can Kentucky follow a similar blueprint? Perhaps, but to do so the Wildcats will really need to ramp up the pressure. Kentucky is averaging 1.6 sacks per game, which places it 94th nationally. The Wildcats have done a good job against the pass (208.5 ypg allowed), but Jackson is by the far best quarterback they have faced this season.
Slowing down Jackson will be a tough task for Kentucky, but at least Houston showed everyone how it can be done.
2. Kentucky’s rushing attack
On offense, the Wildcats have leaned heavily on their ground game and fortunately have a pair of running backs who have gotten the job done. Ranked 17th in the FBS in rushing offense, both Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell Jr. have already run for more than 1,000 yards. Kentucky has one of the nation’s best ground attacks as they are ranked 17th in the FBS in rushing yards this season. They’re led by Stanley Williams and Benny Snell Jr., who have both rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Williams is second in the SEC with 1,076 rushing yards and six touchdowns and he’s averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Snell, a freshman is not too far behind with 1,006 yards and he is tied for the conference lead in rushing touchdowns with 12. He’s averaging six yards per attempt.
Louisville has been one of the best at stopping the run this season. The Cardinals are giving up just 99.2 rushing yards per game, which is good for sixth nationally. If Williams and Snell can have some success running the ball, it will take a lot of pressure off of Kentucky’s passing game, while also keeping the Cardinals’ high-powered offense off of the field.
3. Louisville’s defense
In last week’s loss to Houston, the Cardinals gave up a stunning 31 points before halftime. It represented Louisville’s largest halftime deficit since being down 49-0 to Rutgers back in 2008.
But in the second half, the Cardinals really put the clamps down on the Cougars, who managed just six points and 120 yards in the final two quarters. That’s more indicative of a defense that ranks in the top 10 in total yards (292.2 ypg, seventh) and top 25 in points (21.7 ppg, tied for 24th) allowed per game. Given what transpired last week, expect Louisville’s defense to come out fired up and looking to make a statement against Kentucky.
Louisville doesn’t have to worry about impressing the College Football Playoff selection committee anymore. Last week’s loss on national television to Houston took care of that. However, the Cardinals still have pride and bowl positioning, so expect Bobby Petrino’s team to be fired up for their last home game.
Kentucky has enough talent on offense with Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell Jr. to make it interesting. If the Wildcats can establish the run that will at least keep Lamar Jackson and the nation’s most explosive and potent offense off of the field.
This will be Jackson’s last opportunity to show the voters that despite a little hiccup against the Cougars, he’s still the clear-cut front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy. Jackson should be able to pad his stats even more as Louisville pulls away from Kentucky in the second half to cruise to a sixth straight victory in this Bluegrass State rivalry.
Prediction: Louisville 45, Kentucky 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.