The annual showdown between the Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats for the rights to the Governor's Cup heads to Lexington in the final week of the 2019 regular season. With both teams having clinched bowl eligibility within the last two weeks by virtue of reaching the six-win mark, the Cardinals and Wildcats can focus squarely on the task at hand: finishing off the season with a rivalry win.
Louisville (7-4, 5-3 ACC) is coming off an electrifying offensive performance that saw the Cardinals post 28 points in each half en route to a 56-34 win over Syracuse. After posting 38 points or more four times in the first six weeks of the season, the Cardinals were held under 30 points for three straight games before tallying 34 against NC State two weeks ago and then 56 this past week.
Kentucky (6-5. 3-5 SEC) is in the midst of a similar offensive breakout, scoring 38 points two weeks ago against Vanderbilt before this past week’s 50-7 blowout of FCS opponent UT Martin. In the six games between the Wildcats’ 2-1 start and the Vanderbilt win, Kentucky averaged just 14.3 points per game and went just 2-4 in that stretch.
Not only has the winner of this game alternated each year for the last four meetings, but the road team has also been victorious in each of those meetings. Kentucky leads the all-time series 16-15, pulling ahead on the strength of a dominating 56-10 win in Louisville last year.
Louisville at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -2.5
When Louisville Has the Ball
Micale Cunningham wasn’t incredibly accurate on Saturday against Syracuse, completing just 11 of his 20 passing attempts. Five of his 11 completions went for touchdowns, however, and he rushed eight more times for 60 yards and another score for a total of six touchdowns in the game.
Louisville brings a top-30 scoring offense into this weekend’s game, and the Cardinals could hardly be contained last week as the ground game more than complemented Cunningham’s aerial attack. Javian Hawkins effectively averaged a first down per carry, rushing for 233 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Chatarius "Tutu" Atwell had a huge day on the receiving side, catching five passes for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Atwell now leads all ACC receivers in both yards (1,072) and touchdowns (11), with both marks placing him among the top 10 receivers nationally.
Kentucky’s defense has played very well as of late, holding Tennessee and Vanderbilt to just 17 and 14 points, respectively, while Missouri and UT Martin mustered just seven points apiece against the Wildcats. That represents a strong rebound from the first half of the season, when all but one of Kentucky’s first seven opponents scored at least 20 points.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
The Wildcats have been one of the least prolific passing offenses in the FBS this season, amassing just over 127 passing yards per game. That number includes the meager 17 that the Wildcats totaled on 11 attempts against Tennessee-Martin, as starter Lynn Bowden was just 1-for-6 on the day.
Clearly, Kentucky's major offensive strength is its ground attack. The Wildcats come into this game ranked 12th in the FBS in rushing offense — and second in the SEC — with 252.4 yards rushing per game. Against the Skyhawks last week, Bowden rushed 11 times for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Asim Rose, Travis Tisdale, Tyler Markray and Chris Rodriguez all added rushing scores. With 105 yards on just six carries, Rose surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground for the first time since Sept. 21 against Mississippi State — when he also ran for 105 yards, that time on nine carries.
Louisville’s defense has hardly been its strength in 2019, as the Cardinals rank in the bottom 30 nationally — and better than only Syracuse and Boston College in the ACC — in total defense. The Cardinals are allowing nearly 440 yards per game this season, surrendering 510 total yards to Syracuse in last week’s win. The Cardinals’ 32.8 points allowed per game also ranks among the 30 worst marks in the FBS and is tied with Boston College for the worst in the ACC.
A series that began in 1912 and has been contested annually since 1994 sees its 32nd renewal. This season, the matchup will showcase two teams with widely different skillsets, with Kentucky incredibly run-heavy and Louisville relying on balance. Defensively, Kentucky is riding a wave of momentum, while Louisville would be thrilled to avoid yet another shootout.
Prediction: Louisville 37, Kentucky 29
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.