No. 11 Louisville looks to rebound vs. Kentucky
The disappointment of the loss to Houston last week still seems to be lingering a bit with Louisville heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Kentucky.
The No. 11 Cardinals (9-2, 7-1 ACC) and unranked Wildcats (6-5, 4-4 SEC) kick off at noon ET at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville with ESPN cameras covering the action.
The 36-10 whipping by the Cougars essentially squashed whatever hopes the Cardinals had of garnering one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. At 11-1, they would have been in the conversation. At 10-2, not so much.
“We blew it. We had an opportunity sitting there,” coach Bobby Petrino said immediately after the game. “It was one of those situations where they were better than us tonight. There's no question about it.”
Mistakes, which started with the Cardinals fumbling the opening kickoff away to set up Houston's first touchdown, led to their downfall. They lost two other fumbles, were penalized 15 times for 114 yards, allowed a remarkable 11 sacks, and got only one touchdown and a field goal on three trips inside the red zone.
“When you look at a video when you get beat, you always consider two things,” Petrino said. “Did we just get beat, or did we beat ourselves?
“Certainly that game was a combination of the two.”
But it's time to move on, and Petrino thinks the Cardinals have.
“Our focus is completely on this game,” he said, looking to Kentucky. “And winning this game and doing everything we need to do be successful in winning this football game. And, like I said, send the seniors out with a win.”
The Wildcats come into the affair having already reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010 with last week's 49-13 win over Austin Peay, unlike the last two years when they needed to beat Louisville for a sixth win. Thus they will be playing without that kind of pressure weighing on them.
“I don't know if it is a relief,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said, “but it is certainly better. I wish we were sitting at seven or eight, but definitely a better situation.”
Freshman Benny Snell has rushed for a Kentucky freshman-record 1,006 yards, a good bunch of it by taking direct snaps from the “wildcat” formation. Junior Boom Williams has amassed 1,072 yards in more conventional fashion.
“They've made a commitment to running the football,” Petrino said, “We know going into the game we're going to need to stop the run, and we're going to need to the ball to win the game.
“So it should be a good matchup.”
Quarterback Stephen Johnson, a junior college transfer who took over when Drew Barker suffered a season-ending back injury the third game of the season, also has been a big key in the Wildcats' turnaround from an 0-2 start.
“They now have a quarterback that can run the ball and throw the ball deep,” Petrino said. “And they're running a lot of the wildcat game. I think the installation of the quarterback has really helped because he has a strong arm and can throw the deep ball.
“Once you loosen people up, you can run the football.”
Of course, Louisville has a pretty good runner and passer at quarterback as well. Sophomore Lamar Jackson has rushed for nearly 125 yards a game and passed for another 283. He has scored 19 touchdowns and passed for another 28.
He has Stoops' respect.
“What I admire most about Lamar Jackson is you can see his leadership and you can see his toughness,” Stoops said. “Just watching some of their games when I could get a chance throughout the year, and, of course, on film you don't see as much as on TV, but you could see how strong he is and what type of leader he is.
“They are good across the board and well-coached across the board, but when they need a play he is there. He will either run or throw it or make a good decision and will his team to wins.
“You have to have a lot of respect for someone like that.”