Time: Saturday, November 24th, 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT
TV: ESPN 2/WatchESPN
Commentators: Kevin Brown and Andre Ware
Odds: Kentucky (-17) O/U: 52
The Governor’s Cup has become one of the nastier rivalries in the country in recent years. Since the annual matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals was moved to the final weekend of the regular season with the other big ACC vs. SEC tilts in 2014, there have been some big moments and no shortage of drama. We’ve even seen a Heisman winner in Lamar Jackson have his coming out party (2015) and then lose at home as a 27 point favorite the following year. Last season, he closed his career in this rivalry in dominating fashion after being involved in a skirmish. Entering this year’s renewal, the overall series is tied at 15-15.
I’d hate to be too cliche with my phrasing here, but the truly most fitting way to describe these intrastate rivals in 2018 is that it’s been a “tale of two seasons.”
Louisville is 2-9 and has already fired former head coach, Bobby Petrino. It has been an objectively bad season for the Cards. They are currently ranked 108th in S&P+ and it’s not a case where one side of the football is decently ranked and carries the team. U of L is 111th in offense and 105th in defense. The offensive and defensive line play has been poor. In ACC games, Louisville has lost all eight by an average of 29.5 points. There’s really no way to spin the fortunes of this team. We’re entering Week 13 and the QB battle still isn’t settled.
Kentucky comes in at 8-3 and is in the midst of their best season in terms of win-loss record since 1984. The Cats haven’t been able to achieve this without some struggles of their own this season, however. Led by Bednarik Award finalist, Josh Allen, the defense has been outstanding and is currently ranked 16th in S&P+ after spending time in the top five. While the Wildcat defense has been historically good, the offense has sputtered at times for a variety of reasons. The struggles could succinctly be described as being due to one-dimensional play calling during large chunks of games and a lack of explosive plays through the air.
Even with these programs trending in different directions, you still have to throw out the records out in this intense rivalry scenario.
Kentucky: Can the Cats jump out early and maintain a big lead?
This season has been a fun one for Kentucky fans, but for as fun as it’s been, it has probably been a little too frustrating at times for an 8-3 squad. The offense looks like it refuses to fully mash the gas. This is Mark Stoops’ M.O.. Sure the offense has had execution issues (drops, missed blocking assignments, etc.) at times that have led to the 103rd offensive S&P+ ranking, but it’s obvious that this team plays not to lose with the play calling. Benny Snell and the defense are outstanding, but they can’t carry the team for the full 60. First-year starting QB, Terry Wilson seems to not have been given his own set of keys to drive to this point.
Kentucky is 9-18 against the spread as a favorite since 2013 when Stoops arrived in Lexington, which is last in the SEC by 6 wins. So this theme of not going all out with strategy isn’t new, but it seems as though it’s been especially conservative in the eyes of the fans this season. Let’s not forget, Kentucky was 7-1 at one point and playing for a chance to go to the SEC Championship Game.
The Cats could be in trouble if they allow the Cardinals to hang around. This is Louisville’s bowl game.
Louisville: Can the Cardinal defense maintain the run well enough to win?
Now if there is one team that can allow UK to blow them out with their ground and pound style, it’s Louisville. The Cards are allowing a silly 283.1 rushing YPG. This has them sitting pretty at 127 of 130. For U of L to have any semblance of hope in this one, Benny Snell, Terry Wilson and A.J. Rose have to be contained. The trio has combined for 1,990 rushing yards this season.
So in short, I don’t think Louisville will be able to contain Snell, Wilson and Rose. That is a lot to ask for a rush defense that has been struggling so mightily. Even if the Cardinals can have some success on offense, it’s unlikely that they will even be on the field enough to be able to pull out a victory.
The Wildcats control this contest and even *brace yourselves* cover the 17 point spread to take the 16-15 lead in this series.
Kentucky 38, Louisville 14