Bluegrass supremacy at stake for No. 17 Kentucky, Louisville

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              Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson (3) hands the ball off too running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — No. 17 Kentucky’s impressive record and gaudy defensive statistics suggest it should be able to impose its will on struggling archrival Louisville.

The bowl-bound Wildcats (8-3) aren’t buying into those presumed advantages and expect a challenge from the Cardinals (2-9) in Saturday night’s battle for the Governor’s Cup. This is a rivalry game, after all, where anything’s possible.

Even for two teams going in opposite directions.

“It really doesn’t matter who’s got what going into the game — the rankings or how good you are,” Kentucky junior running back Benny Snell Jr. said. “It’s a rivalry. The teams are going to be out there, the best team is going to win.”

Kentucky has a chance to win nine games for the first time since 1977 and just the second time in 68 years. The Wildcats can also break a 15-all tie in the series with its second win in three years over the Cardinals.

Louisville is determined to not let that happen on its home turf, even though it limps in with eight consecutive losses.

Last week’s coaching change — replacing Bobby Petrino with interim coach Lorenzo Ward — didn’t change the results for the Cardinals. They led 3-0 before yielding 45 unanswered points to North Carolina State in a 52-10 loss that capped a winless season in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The outcome marked the sixth time this season Louisville has yielded at least 50 points.

That doesn’t bode well defensively, even against Kentucky’s scoring-challenged offense. The Wildcats still feature one of the nation’s best backs in Snell, who has rushed for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the Cardinals must show some improvement if they hope to compete. Their offense actually averages slightly more yards per game than the Wildcats (356.9-344.8).

Facing a hated rival should provide all the motivation Louisville needs in trying to put a positive end to a woeful season.

“We take it very personal,” Louisville senior guard Linwood Foy said. “We all know it’s a rivalry and the attention it brings to the field. We’re just going to come out with everything we have and just play for each other.”

Some other things to watch in the battle for Bluegrass bragging rights:

HIGH EMOTIONS

Rivalry games tend to ratchet up the intensity on the field, such as last year’s bench-clearing brawl following a shoving and wrestling match between Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones. The 2014 meeting in Louisville featured a pregame shoving match at midfield that involved assistant coaches and former Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino.

Ward has stressed scaling down extracurricular activity because the Cardinals can’t afford the penalties.

“You play with emotion, but don’t be emotional,” senior nose tackle Henry Famurewa said. “Emotional is when you start getting unsportsmanlike conduct (penalties), personal fouls, fights. You’ve got to find a balance.”

FIERCE PASS RUSH

Kentucky recorded seven sacks in last week’s 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee , with senior linebacker Josh Allen making two critical sacks late on a day he registered a career-best 15 tackles. He broke school sack records in the process and holds the marks for a single season (13) and career (27.5).

Louisville has yielded an ACC-worst 41 sacks this season.

RECORD IN REACH

Considering he gashed Louisville for a career-high 211 yards rushing last November, Snell stands a decent chance of becoming the school’s career leader this weekend.

Snell needs 207 yards to break Sonny Collins’ record of 3,835 and is facing a Louisville run defense ranked 125th nationally at 277.6 yards allowed per game.

TROPHY LIFE

There is a reason it takes two players to carefully lift the Governor’s Cup: the trophy weighs 110 pounds and stands 33 inches high.

It is comprised of black marble, optic-grade crystal and gold-plated brass and pewter, both 23 karat. The $23,000 trophy was donated by the Kroger grocery store chain when the series resumed in 1994 after a 70-year hiatus.

“It’s precious, but it’s pretty heavy,” said Famurewa, who boasted that he could probably lift it by himself.

SO LONG, SENIORS

Louisville will bid farewell to 11 seniors who have gone 27-23 with three bowl appearances in their careers.