Cats drop Cards in opener - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Cats drop Cards in opener

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Joker Phillips sported a postgame grin to match his name.

After his long journey to land the head coaching job at his alma mater, Phillips couldn't have asked for much more in an opener.

Kentucky flashed some offensive razzle-dazzle against its bitter rival -- albeit one coached by Phillips' own close friend, Charlie Strong, also making a coaching debut.

So, yes, Phillips was smiling after Kentucky knocked off Louisville 23-16 Saturday to keep the Governor's Cup for a fourth straight year. As he stepped up to the podium for the first time as a winning coach, he was determined to spread the joy.

"Are you feeling as happy as I feel right now?" he asked. "I was just excited to come here and watch."

Phillips, who gained prominence as the coordinator of Kentucky's record-breaking offense during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, has hinted this 2010 version could be as good as the Andre Woodson-led unit from then.

The Wildcats didn't disappoint in the season opener, gobbling up yardage in bulk -- particularly on the ground.

For Strong, who once coached alongside Phillips at South Carolina and more recently guided Florida's dominating defense to two national titles in seven years, the rebuilding project has begun at Louisville -- his first head coaching job. It started with some halftime adjustments that seemed to work.

"I just called them in and I said, 'We're giving up too many big plays,"' Strong said. "'That can't happen anymore."'

Louisville kept it close until the end -- these Governor's Cup matchups always seem to be -- but Kentucky running back Derrick Locke seemed poised to put the game away early. He rushed for 104 yards and two TDs, both in the first quarter.

Phillips and Strong may be friends, but Locke said the game had all the intensity of a typical battle for Bluegrass supremacy.

"They had been talking a lot of trash," Locke said. "It's good to take the trophy back to Lexington."

Kentucky scored all but three of its points in the first half before the offense began to stall. But Louisville's playmakers couldn't match Kentucky's early intensity, and two key turnovers sealed the Wildcats' first four-game winning streak since the annual series renewed in 1994.

It didn't take Phillips long to put his own stamp on a program he inherited from his mentor, Rich Brooks, who led it to four consecutive bowl appearances.

After winning the toss and electing to receive -- something Brooks would never do -- Kentucky needed just two explosive plays to go 70 yards for the game's first points.

"I just want our kids to feel confident that we could score," Phillips said. "It worked out this time. Next time, if it doesn't, they'll blame me."

The game also marked a return to the lineup for senior quarterback Mike Hartline, who missed seven of the Wildcats' final eight games last season and had to fend off a challenge from two talented underclassmen for the starting job.

The Wildcats committed no turnovers, thanks largely to the efficient play of Hartline, who connected on 17 of 26 passes for 217 yards.

"He was the guy I praised the most," Phillips said. "He took a lot of criticism, but he's 3-0 in this game."

First, Hartline connected with La'Rod King on a 38-yard pass.

Then, Locke burst through the line, made one spin move and ran untouched to the end zone from 32 yards out.

"It doesn't have to be pretty if you win," Hartline said. "It doesn't matter. It just means a lot to us."

Kentucky went even farther -- 82 yards -- on its second scoring drive. Locke got the ball on six of the Wildcats' 10 plays in that drive, including a 1-yard sweep for his second TD in the opening quarter.

With Kentucky's offense already clicking, it was playmaker Randall Cobb's turn to prove he is still the star.

Cobb showed his athletic ability by leaping into the air and catching a lob with only his left hand -- one of just two catches he made in the game. Instead, he did his damage in the return game and on the ground, and even as quarterback in the final drive when Kentucky iced the game.

One snap after making his dazzling catch, Cobb took the ball on an end-around and cruised down the sideline 51 yards -- Kentucky's third and final touchdown.

Kentucky had built a 17-point lead and a possible blowout was brewing. Although the Wildcats never appeared in serious jeopardy of letting the game slip away, it was more Louisville's mistakes that allowed them to hold on.

"I thought we were going to win going away, but we let them back in the game," Locke said. "They battled."

A holding penalty caused the Cardinals to squander a trip to the Kentucky 5 just before halftime, and they managed only a field goal. The Wildcats led 20-6 at the break.

While Kentucky showed off the far more balanced attack, Louisville got a career-best game from senior running back Bilal Powell, who rushed for 153 yards. He got 80 of those on a third-quarter touchdown run, easily his longest ever, which cut the lead to 23-13 midway through the third quarter.

A third Chris Philpott field goal trimmed the score to the final margin, but Kentucky's defense ended other Louisville threats at a comeback, halting consecutive late drives with turnovers. Mychal Bailey intercepted a pass from Adam Froman, who completed just 14 of 29 passes. Then, Ridge Wilson scooped up a ball that slipped out of Powell's hands.

One of the few low points for Kentucky was the performance of kicker Ryan Tydlacka, who missed an extra point and a chip field goal attempt that could have stretched the lead.

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