LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville, as will be the case all season, doesn't need to just beat the University of Kentucky, it needs to beat the Wildcats convincingly on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.
The Cardinals are a two-touchdown favorite, and frankly, beating that expectation doesn't seem like too tall a task for the Cardinals, with Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater dissecting defenses with his host of offensive weapons.
Still, rivalry games can be tricky. Here are the keys not only to victory for the Cardinals, but to the expected blowout.
1. QUICK STOPS EARLY. Almost everyone concedes that the Cardinals will move the ball and score in this game. The question is whether U of L's defense, which has not played a series under any pressure at all this season, will adapt to UK's offensive pace, early in the game.
Talk all you want about UK's ability to run plays in bunches, if you're running a play every 15 seconds and don't get first downs, you're giving the ball back to the other offense in less than a minute. And given U of L's offense (and UK's defense), that could make for an ugly afternoon in Lexington.
U of L needs to be at its best on third down, especially early in the game, to keep UK from getting early points and momentum.
2. TACKLE. So far this season, U of L's defense has been adept at swarming to the ball and gang tackling. That gets a little harder against an offense like Kentucky's, which spreads the defense and forces it to make one-on-one tackles.
If U of L's defensive players prove equal to that challenge, after a fall camp in which coaches stressed tackling above all else, the Cards should be fine.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford's pledge to bring pressure from the time the team gets off the bus may be harder to execute against Kentucky, which wants to run plays quickly and to get rid of the ball fast. U of L needs penetration from its defensive line -- which hasn't always achieved that this season against lesser competition. Regardless, the secondary and linebacking corps are going to be the most important players in this one.
3. SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE ON OFFENSE. One danger for U of L all season is to come into the game thinking blowout and pressing to hit the home run ball early. So far, Bridgewater has done a good job of avoiding this.
It will be enough in this game for U of L to operate consistently, to make the plays that are there, and to simply execute without putting undue pressure on itself. Big plays will come in the natural course of the offense, given UK's problems in the secondary.
Bridgewater needs simply to take care of the ball, make the safe passes, and let the offense run. As part of this, the Cards need to establish more of a running game than they've had in the first two games. The return of Kamran Joyer on the offensive front should help in this area.
Frankly, Bridgewater just needs to be calm and sharp, which has been his normal way of doing things for two seasons.
4. TURNOVERS. One way of stopping high-volume offensive attacks like Kentucky's is the turnover, and U of L would seem to be well-equipped with players able to make the most of opportunities if UK presents them.
If the Cards get a takeaway or two, the game gets ugly. If they get one or two early, Bridgewater has another fourth quarter to hang out on the sidelines.
5. STAY CALM AND KEEP GIVING THE BALL TO TEDDY. U of L coaches have been on a hunt for consistency, which isn't always easy to achieve when you're double-digit favorites over every team you face. As you can tell from this list, the Cardinals don't have to do the extraordinary to win this game very handily. They mainly need to keep the extraordinary from happening on the other side.
If the Cards get turnover-free play from Bridgewater and a few stops on defense, they should leave Lexington with their third straight win in the rivalry, and do it in convincing fashion.