LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Let's see. There are three ways to go about writing the University of Louisville's 27-13 win at Kentucky on Saturday.
Let's start with the national championship angle:
The No. 7-ranked U of L football team had a special visitor in the locker room at halftime, leading UK 10-3: reality.
The Cardinals were struggling against a team picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference. Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater hadn't found his rhythm until the last drive of the half. The Cards struggled to create running room.
In their first 10 offensive plays, the Cards gained only nine yards. In the change-the-channel world of today, they had to hope most poll voters were out tailgating before the Alabama-Texas A&M game.
In a game, and season, in which style points are the only ones U of L can use, they showed up on an ESPN telecast in an airbrushed T-shirt and pair of crocs.
Harsh? You want to play with the big boys, it's a harsh standard.
"We're not as good as we think we are," Bridgewater said after the game.
In the locker room, Charlie Strong had harsher words than those, then he refocused his team.
"I was kind of (ticked) at half," Strong said. "I just knew we weren't playing very good football, so I had some good words for them. We hadn't played our best offensively, but our defense had played well. I just said to them, if we come together and we play as a team, we're going to win this football game. … I knew our offense would pick it up. And I didn't want our defense to take a step back when it did."
Second angle: From the U of L sideline.
U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson gave UK head coach Mark Stoops credit for the Cardinals' slow offensive start.
"They had a really good plan," Watson said. "When you load the box and do some of the things they were doing, there are certain changes we can make. Midway in the second quarter we got dialed into it, and started getting a little rhythm going. The second-half adjustments were just what we did in the locker room. We ran for 62 yards in the first half and wound up running for 242, so they all worked."
The problem Watson was having on the sideline was that, in addition to his own offense going three-and-out, so was UK's. It gave him no time to sit his line down and get it clear on how to change its attack to meet the pressure of UK's up-front pressure.
Bridgewater, additionally, was off his game early.
"I felt like I could've played better," Bridgewater said. "I'll just go back and look at it, and try to improve every little thing."
While U of L's offense sputtered, its defense continued to hold. It hasn't given up a first-half touchdown all season. And it even set up the Cards' first score of the game with a forced fumble and recovery.
UK's "Air Raid" style of uptempo offense could find no more rhythm than U of L's did, and hurt its own cause with at least a half-dozen dropped passes.
The game hinged on U of L's decision to stop pulling its guards and to go to a more straightforward running game. Once it got its line moving forward and backs running downhill, the Cards began to move.
They used eight straight running plays before Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker on a 13-yard fade to go up 10-3.
In the second half, the Cards mixed runs and short passes, then got a 27-yard run from Senorise Perry to set up another TD that made it 17-3. A field goal on the Cards next possess made it 20-3, and five more big rushing plays early in the fourth quarter put U of L in control 27-6.
"It wasn't pretty sometimes," Perry said. "But if you look at it from the standpoint of a team that had some adversity on the road, to take care of business when things don't go your way, I think we have to be grateful and move forward."
The final angle? Strong's postgame message.
According to U of L athletic director Tom Jurich, Strong rolled into the locker room after the game and told his team: "You didn't play your best, but you're not supposed to be your best in the third game of the season. We will get better. But you got physical did and all of you did the things you needed to do to win the game."
Style points aren't for Strong. He never said they would be. At one point, up 27-13 and driving at the UK 20, the Cards were moving at will on the ground. Keep handing it off and you're likely to go up 34-13. Instead, the Cards took two shots at the end zone, with Bridgewater targeting Parker in the corner of the end zone. It didn't work either time, and the subsequent field goal try was blocked.
You wonder if those deep tries weren't a nod to try to put an exclamation point on things. No, Watson said. They had the matchup they wanted. No way they'd get it twice and not score.
"There were a few plays DeVante probably wants back," Watson said. "And Teddy wasn't his best at times, but we didn't help him a lot later."
In the end, U of L rolled up 492 yards of offense and won by two touchdowns on the road without playing its best.
It averaged -- bet you didn't realize this -- 7.1 yards per play. Bridgewater completed 16 of 28 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. He didn't throw an interception. He also carried five times for 44 yards -- but took one sack for nine. He hit seven different receivers.
UK's 13 points could wind up being a season-low. It certainly shot itself in the foot numerous times. But it did not reach the end zone until U of L softened up its defense with a 27-6 lead and the desire to hold UK's offense to short gains.
Senorise Perry rushed for 100 yards on 11 carries. Michael Dyer had 62 yards on 11 carries and Dominique Brown carried 12 times for 45 yards. Defensively, Preston Brown and James Burgess led from their linebacker spots, while Lorenzo Mauldin had one of the best games of his career, with three tackles for loss.
"I knew coming on the road we had to play our best and we were coming into a situation where we were going to get their best. You have to give (Kentucky) a lot of credit," Strong said. ". . . We could have played better, but you get a victory like this, you're on the road, you're very happy, it's a rivalry game."
Afterward, U of L's players remembered their win at Commonwealth Stadium in 2011. They'd lost to UK at home in 2010. But after beating the Wildcats a year later, Strong told them in the locker room that they would never lose to Kentucky again.
Wednesday, March 5 2014 8:53 AM EST2014-03-05 13:53:25 GMT
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