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Kentucky Football

Rivalry Week Adversary -- The Red Team

November 28, 2019
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And just like that, here we are, the last regular-season game of Kentucky’s 2019 football season, the Governor’s Cup. This game will be the difference in six or seven wins for the Wildcats, and although they slaughtered the Cardinals on the road last season, this game will be a whole lot different for Kentucky. Bobby Petrino was the coach of the two-win Cardinals in what wound up being his final season at UofL, and first-year Head Coach Scott Satterfield has done a tremendous job with these Cardinals and already has seven wins on the season. Regardless of the conference, that is impressive, he has a talented offense that will find ways to move the football on Saturday.

Kentucky is at home and a -3 point favorite. The Wildcats match up well against the Cardinals as it is, but if the forecast holds true and rainfalls, that could be an even larger advantage for the blue team. Both teams look a lot different from a season ago, and the rivalry will make the energy high, competitive, and aggressive to start this game. This football game is going to be fun to watch, and will Kentucky be able to extend their 16-15 all-time record against the red team?

One thing is for sure, they do match up well against the Cardinals. 

Kentucky Offense vs Louisville Defense

Well, I guess we will start with this matchup first. Lynn Bowden and Kentucky’s offense has been clicking, fresh off of a season-high 50 points against UT-Martin. The Wildcats are running the football and dominating the ground game as well as the clock. Under Bowden’s time at quarterback, and compliments to punter Max Duffy, every opponent has fallen victim to this style of play by letting Bowden create plays with his legs and the plethora of talented backs in the backfield, and John Schlarman’s offensive line has been hitting on all cylinders, winning the line of scrimmage. Kentucky has a great chance to replicate their offensive efforts with Bowden on Saturday, especially if it rains.

Louisville’s defense will be without starting safety and their 5th leading tackler, Russ Yeast, son of the former Wildcat star, Craig Yeast. This is a guy who is one of the best tacklers on the team, he has four pass breakups and one interception, he has made plays for a back end that has struggled all season. The Cardinals secondary will struggle in his absence trying to stop Bowden and company when they get to the third level of the defense. Louisville is allowing 33 points per game to opponents on the season.

This defense hasn’t been good since Todd Grantham left, and it wasn’t all that special then. Louisville ranks 87th in the FBS in run defense, allowing 183 yards per game by way of ground. That area hasn’t been improving for the Cardinals either, in the month of November those numbers increase to 197 rush yards per game from opponents. Now, they will lose their second-highest tackler amongst defensive backs (Yeast), though he might actually be the best tackler in the secondary. The Cardinals have had large problems this season, defensively, and those will show on Saturday.

Louisville ranks 105 in the FBS in terms of pass defense, which is the opposite of Kentucky’s defense, which ranks 10th ​​​​ against the pass. The Wildcats offense, however, has shown virtually no signs of improving the passing game, it has been poor more times than not, and it will be much of the same on Saturday if the rain comes down as it's supposed to. Maybe Bowden can hit one deep or hit some quick slant and hitch designs. Looks will be there in the secondary at times, it will just be a matter of if Bowden can hit those and if his wideouts will come down with it.

Louisville, much like last season, still allows the explosive plays on defense, which is why Kentucky scored 56 on them a year ago. This season is much of the same, here are the explosive plays allowed by the Cards and where they rank amongst the FBS.

Explosive Plays # FBS RK
10+ yd 174 105
20+ yd 55 87
30+ yd 26 81

 

Explosive Runs # FBS RK
10+ yd 66 103
20+ yd 18 90
30+ yd 9 90

Kentucky has done a tremendous job of taking full control of each game and turning it into the way they play. Now, Louisville has a talented offense that will move the football, and I expect some explosive plays on both sides of the football, but this is the biggest mismatch of the football game. Louisville has allowed five 200+ yard games on the ground this season, only Clemson and Boston College rank higher than Kentucky in rushing offense on the season, but Army is the only team that has been better than the Wildcats on the ground in November. The 84th best run offense in the nation is Syracuse, and they just ran for 200 plus on the Cards last week. 

Kentucky has improved greatly when they switched Lynn Bowden to quarterback. He has played in six games at QB, and five of them he went over 100 yards, his season-low was 99 yards against Georgia, who I believe has the best run defense in college football. The Wildcats will play their game and Louisville will have to find ways to create turnover to stop that. Kentucky has built great confidence offensively the past two weeks as they have outscored opponents 88-21 in those two games.

John Schlarman’s unit up front has been playing unbelievable. Every single year, they struggle a little bit early, but the unit starts getting together late and when they do it is a beauty to watch. I went back and watched Louisville play Miami, and the Cardinals were getting dominated in the trenches by a Miami offensive line that gave up 10 sacks in their season-opener to Florida, the Hurricanes were getting a consistent push. Kentucky has allowed just 16 sacks on the season, which is pretty impressive considering they have had three different starting quarterbacks with all different play styles. 

Louisville might come into a rainy Kroger Field, which will be the fourth downpour the Wildcats have played in this season. When the home team is used to this weather, it hurts Louisville’s ability to pass as well, which they are facing a top ten secondary in the nation. Rain benefits Kentucky’s style of play greatly, I expect a big game on the ground from Bowden and his trio of lethal backs. Turnovers will be the only way the Cardinals stop this offense.

Louisville has allowed 30+ points in seven football games this season. Kentucky is tied with Iowa for the longest streak in the nation allowing fewer than 30 points in 15 consecutive games. Schlarman’s offensive front will dominate this football game. Kentucky needs to play their game and take care of the football to win number seven on the season.

Kentucky Defense vs Louisville Offense

The Cardinals offense is the reason they have seven wins on the season. Scott Satterfield really has done an impressive job with this group, and he is a very good football coach. This offense Louisville has is a top 25 offense in the nation. They have three great weapons, an offensive line that has struggled, and a dynamic scheme that is hard to cover. Louisville has scored over 30 points six times this season and average 34.5 points per game.

However, Louisville has a much easier schedule, the ACC is arguably the worst power five conference in college football this season. Louisville has allowed 30 sacks and 104 tackles for loss this season, and that points to the inconsistency on the offensive line. This team has struggled all season against good defensive lines, which is why they could be in big trouble on Saturday. The rain can really limit what this offense does.

What does this offense do? They get their three best playmakers out in space, and they are all young guys, so get used to them. Sophomore Quarterback Malice Cunningham is a dynamic athlete that has improved his arm this season and is a dual-threat playmaker with his legs. Cunningham has a talented freshman back and sophomore target, running back Javian Hawkins and wideout Chatarius ‘Tutu’ Atwell. 

Hawkins has 1,278 yards on the ground this season averaging near six yards per carry, which is impressive considering the struggles on the offensive line. Atwell has 1,072 yards as a receiver, that is an eye-opening 18 yards per catch and he has found the end zone 11 times this season. These are their big-play guys, both listed at 5-foot-9, at their best using their speed out in space, this offense tries to get Hawkins out in space as well as Cunningham by using creative read options and outside run plays. Atwell is at his best on crossers across the middle and can dust guys in man-to-man coverage, the rain could make it hard for that part of the offense to get going.

Kentucky’s secondary has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the nation and is statistically amongst the top ten in the FBS in that category. It will be hard for Lousiville to get yards because this secondary has struggled with physically imposing receivers, not the prototype that Atwell is. Kentucky can really get pressure in the backfield as the defensive line has been playing their best football as of late. Calvin Taylor guaranteed a win earlier in the week, the senior defensive tackle and former two-star, who is tied first in the SEC with 7.5 sacks. 

That will be the difference, and this is a deep inside linebacker unit with veteran Kash Daniel, emerging stars Deandre's Square and Chris Oats, and Jamin Davis, who Brad White said following the UT-Martin win, “Proved he’s very much in that linebacker rotation.” On top of an outside linebacker unit that has been playing six guys over the past two weeks. This deep front seven has been improving all season against the run, and I believe the size, strength, and depth of talent will be hard for Louisville’s offensive line to handle.

This match up all boils down to how this defense can contain Cunningham and limit their playmakers out in space. Rain will make it harder for Louisville to show a passing threat, so Kentucky has to finish tackles and gang tackle to limit that space. Outside runs is something Kentucky has struggled with, they have struggled to prevent those explosive runs, but they have allowed just one run over 20 yards in the month of November and just six 10+ yard runs. The defensive staff has this side of the football playing really well right now. 

Atwell and bigger target Dez Fitzpatrick combined for 17 of Louisville’s 28 touchdowns through the air. Fitzpatrick is the model of receiver that this secondary struggles with, but the rain will limit that aspect greatly. If this football game turns into a ground battle, Kentucky will win, plain and simple. That looks to be the direction this game is headed.

Kentucky is playing its best football on both lines of each side of the football right now. That will be the difference in this game. This is a top 25 offense, in a heated rivalry game, they will find a way to make plays. Cunningham, Hawkins, and Atwell are their difference-makers, how well Kentucky can limit them will be the deciding factor in how close this football game will be. I believe Cunningham could have a good game because this defense hasn’t dealt with much like him this season.

Impact Cards

QB / Micale Cunningham / So. / #3

Cunningham is a dynamic quarterback that is having a similar year to Terry Wilson a season ago. Cunningham has improved his arm from his freshman season and stepped into the starting role this season and thrown 19 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. The weather could limit that role and not make it as large of a matchup. Cunningham can give these defense problems with his legs and the weapons around him. 

RB / Javian Hawkins / Fr. / #10

Hawkins is a back that can’t make much without the holes but makes plays when in space. How well can Kentucky contain his speed and contain him in the backfield? When Hawkins can get out in the open is when he can impact this game. A freshman with 1,000 yards on the season has shown his talent to make those explosive plays, Kentucky has to limit him.

WR / Tutu Atwell / So. / #1

Atwell has superior breakaway speed. The rain could affect his entire role of the offense, but he can make plays on short crossers and jet sweeps. His speed out in space could give the second and third level of the defense problems, though Kentucky has done a good job at limiting slot receivers this season. This will be one of their bigger tests.

Impact Cats

Lynn Bowden

This guy is a lock for 100 yards on the ground. The stress he puts on a defense is fun to watch and this Louisville defense is not the difference in the five wins from last season to this season. Louisville struggles against the run, they will get pushed around by Kentucky’s offensive line and struggle to defend Bowden. Turnovers are a must for the Cardinals to slow down this offense.

Deandre Square

The linebackers are going to have to play well in this football game. Square is the best pure tackler on the defense and has gotten better every week he has been at Kentucky. He sat out last week, so he should be fresh and ready to go. This defense will have their hands full trying to contain Louisville’s playmakers, tackling in the open field will be critical.

Calvin Taylor

The big man guaranteed a win and is the co-sack leader in the SEC. He will have to back up his words on Senior day, and it shouldn’t be too difficult against the Cardinals struggling offensive line. They have allowed the second-most tackles for loss in the FBS (104), trailing only a winless Akron team, and they are in the bottom half allowing 30 sacks on the season as well. Kentucky’s front seven has a lot of unique talent and they are clicking right now, the phenomenal noses, Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall will set the tone and seniors Taylor and TJ Carter have been playing very well all season. 

One Strength

Louisville

  • Creative Offense

This is a top 25 offense in football. The talented trio of Cunningham, Hawkins, and Atwell are the one and only reason Louisville has a chance. Louisville has to get creative if the rain is steady to match Kentucky’s ground game. Explosive plays are what will give them a chance to win.

Kentucky

  • Defensive Hot Streak

Louisville has a terrible defense, and Kentucky has a top 25 defense that has improved by the month. They are playing their best football right now and this game could come down to who can stop the opposing offense. This front seven can create pressure but they have to finish plays, Cunningham will be able to extend plays with his legs, Kentucky has to take great angles and gang tackle. White’s defense hasn’t allowed 20+ points in over a month.

One Weakness

Louisville

  • Rainy Road Trip

Louisville has to go on the road and play in a rainy environment that the Wildcats are experienced in this season. Kentucky has outscored opponents 79-14 in their two wins in the rain, the one loss was 21-0 to Georgia in Athens. If the Wildcats make this their game and control the tempo by great punting and moving the chains on the ground, Louisville doesn’t have a good chance of winning this football game.

Kentucky

  • Passing Inconsistencies

This won’t be a glaring factor, I said back when this Bowden experiment came about that they could win every game on the schedule outside of Georgia, and they have proven that. Bowden has thrown the football well in a couple of games, but it has just been far too inconsistent. Kentucky is extremely one-dimensional on the offensive side of the football and a couple of turnovers could hurt them. It is critical Kentucky gets off to a quick start and isn’t forced to play from behind, but the red team does have a pretty tough defense.

B3 Keys to the Game

– Explosive Plays
– Third Down
– L.O.S.

Explosive plays could be the difference-maker in this game. Louisville has lived off of those explosive plays offensively this season, but they have allowed them easy and often. It is going to be hard for the Cardinals to contain this rushing attack that has four different names to it. Who will have more 10+/20+ yard plays will win this rivalry game?

Kentucky has struggled on third down this season. The offense converts 38% of the time, which is at a much lower rate than Louisville at 43%. Which offense will be able to get in those manageable third downs will be the key because Kentucky has an inability to throw the football downfield and the weather can hurt Louisville’s chances in the department as well. Predictable passing downs will stall out these offenses, but the defenses have both allowed 40% conversions on third down at home and on the road.

But this game really boils down to the line of scrimmage. Miami’s offensive line got a consistent push on this Louisville defensive line, and the offensive line has some difficult numbers to look at this season. Who will win the line of scrimmage? I believe Kentucky will win both offensively and defensively.

Prediction

The Governor’s Cup is one of the best rivalries in college football, you can always expect high energy and some spit flying off of the mouthpieces. Opening kickoff, the tone will be set. When I was previewing this game and studying Louisville, I really just see too large of an advantage for the offensive and defensive lines. Add the rain on top of that, Kentucky will control this game and play their style of football, which will be a massive disadvantage for the Cardinals. Blue team beats the red team.

UK 34 UL 24

 

 

 

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Rivalry Week Adversary -- The Red Team

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