LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The cream puffs have been consumed, and it's time to get to the main dish -- at least in the non-conference schedules for the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
Here are five initial thoughts as the game approaches:
1. COIN TOSS. Take the ball. Doesn't matter who you are. UK, U of L, you win the toss, you take the ball. Forget deferring. The strength of Louisville's team is Teddy Bridgewater and its offense. The strength of Kentucky's team is its rotating quarterback and fast-break attack. There's no reason for either to give up a chance to seize the momentum at the outset of this rivalry game. Take the ball.
2. PSYCHOLOGY 101. From a mental standpoint, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong couldn't have asked for a much better setup than he got from his team's 41-7 win over Eastern Kentucky. It was a comfortable win, but his team wasn't particularly sharp. Strong gets to beat on his guys, psychologically speaking, all week. He gets to throw on a tape to show EKU penetrating his offensive line on the run. He gets to show Bridgewater a mistake or two. He gets to show everybody that they're not as good as their press clippings. Any chance UK had of catching U of L feeling self-satisfied went away with the EKU game. And for Strong, that's a good thing.
3. PSYCHOLOGY 201. Meanwhile, at UK, coach Mark Stoops & Co. are in about as a good a position as they could be after a season-opening loss to Western. With a rotation of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow at quarterback, they started putting up the kind of pinball numbers you expected to see from offensive coordinator Neal Brown. They made enough second-half mistakes to keep the team focused on what the coaches say, but now they've seen the offense work at game speed, they know how it can knock opposing defenses off balance, and that offense is Kentucky's best hope for pulling an upset this season. This was a team in need of confidence. It found some in its win over Miami. UK is a double-digit underdog (and the line is growing the closer the game gets). It has nothing to lose. Rivalry games are notoriously hard to figure.
4. GOTTA SHOW UP BIG. You expect the quarterbacks to play well. So who are the other guys each team absolutely has to have to make the came competitive if you're UK, or a blowout if you're U of L? For both sides, defensive players are going to need to come up big. UK defensive end Za'Darius Smith leads the nation with four sacks through two games, and is a player who can dictate game plans of the opposing offense. Should U of L use double teams, a tight end or running back, it could open opportunities from the other side by Bud Dupree. Regardless, UK has some experience and talent on its defensive front, and those guys need to show up. For U of L, Lorenzo Mauldin is the most talented player on the defense and needs to cause havoc up front. But with UK running a quick-strike play, the secondary will be under pressure, which means the Cardinals need big performances from linebackers James Burgess and Preston Brown, and safety Hakeem Smith. The one area U of L has improved defensively has been its ability to absorb a big play and still hold. It may need to do that against UK. The quick-strike offense often negates pressure, but if the Cards get some from their front four, it could be a long day for the Wildcats.
5. RUN THE BALL. It's always been the key to this game. It always will be the key to this game. You win the rushing battle, you win the game. UK has put together back-to-back 200-yard rushing game for the first time since 2010. U of L's stable of running backs has NFL talent. The Cardinals did not run it well against EKU, but transfer Michael Dyer crept one spot up the depth chart this week, and may be gearing up for a breakout performance in a high-stakes rivalry game.