CRAWFORD | Louisville vs. Kentucky football: A first look - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Louisville vs. Kentucky football: A first look

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The college football season has been nothing special if you’re a fan of the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky. For that kind of stuff, you need to look down to Bowling Green.

But maybe we’ll get a memorable finish when the Cardinals visit Commonwealth Stadium to visit the Wildcats on Saturday.

Here’s the sad fact. There’s not one quality win between these teams. The best performance by either one was a three-point loss at home by Louisville to Clemson.

The Sagarin ratings favor Louisville by 8.07 points. Official Vegas lines haven’t been issued. Expect Louisville to be a favorite, based largely on its ability to beat opponents with losing records. But that doesn’t mean much this season. The Cards are 5-2 as favorites, with losses to Houston and Pitt (rather inexplicably, the Cards closed as a one-point favorite in that one).

Kentucky will be playing just its fifth game of the season against an FBS opponent with a winning record. It has produced a paltry 12.3 points per game in the previous four. That ranks 115th in the nation.

Louisville will be playing against its sixth FBS opponent with a non-winning record. Against those struggling programs, U of L’s offense ranks 91st nationally, averaging 28 points per game. (By comparison, UK has averaged 31.5 points against its non-winning FBS opponents, 76th nationally, and Louisville is scoring 24.6 per game against its six FBS opponents with winning records, which ranks 59th nationally).

The Cardinals rank. No. 17 in the nation in total defense. But don’t get excited. Against its five FBS opponents with winning records, that same defense ranks 48th in the nation, is giving up 30.6 points per game (51st nationally), 170 rushing yards per game (41st nationally) and 245 passing yards per game (63rd nationally).

What are you smiling about Kentucky fan? You’re an FBS opponent with a losing record. Against those teams, Louisville ranks seventh in total defense, fifth against the run, but 31st against the pass. And against its FBS non-winning opponents, the Cardinals are giving up 22 points a game, 71st in the nation.

Kentucky, meanwhile, has faced only four FBS opponents with a winning record all season, and still isn’t bowl eligible. But its defense has performed worse in those games than Louisville’s. It is giving up 33.8 points in those games (68th nationally), is 57th in total defense (426 yards per game). UK is 33rd nationally against the pass in those games, largely because it is giving up just better than 218 yards on the ground (91st nationally).

I don’t know what to make of this matchup. A Kentucky defense that can’t defend the run against a Louisville offense that hasn’t been able to run it. A Louisville defense susceptible to being picked apart by good quarterbacks against a Kentucky team that hasn’t established one.

And what about quarterbacks? We could see five of them in this game. Drew Barker got the start against Charlotte for Kentucky on Saturday, but was unimpressive. Still, there’s little reason not to stay with him, In four games against FBS teams with winning records this season, Patrick Towles has completed just 45.8 percent of his passes, has seven interceptions to one touchdown, and has an efficiency rating of 80.59.

It stands more to reason that UK would continue the commitment to the running game it established against an overmatched Charlotte team. The playmakers are JoJo Kemp and Boom Williams. Might as well put the game in their hands.

Meanwhile at Pittsburgh on Saturday, Louisville started Kyle Bolin, the hero of last season’s win over Kentucky, but he was lifted after throwing a pick six. Could Bobby Petrino go with Lamar Jackson against a Kentucky defense that has proved vulnerable to running quarterbacks? And does it matter who the quarterback is if he can't stay vertical? After seven Pittsburgh sacks allowed Saturday, the Cardinals have given up 43 this season -- worst in FBS.

And what’s the mood? Kentucky, last season, got into Louisville’s heads when several players who did not play in the game tried to mix it up with Louisville players before the game, with coaches from both teams eventually getting involved.

Barker was one of the guys talking, and could be on the field for this one.

Motivation? Kentucky, for a second straight year, needs to win to get to 6-6 and a bowl game. Louisville already has locked up a bowl bid, but is coming off an embarrassing first-half performance at Pittsburgh and will look to bounce back yet one more time.

The announced crowd at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night was 56,195. Mark Stoops said he’s hoping for a big crowd when Louisville visits, even if the game has been scheduled for a “lets-get-this-over-with” noon start on the SEC Network.

“I hope it's electric next Saturday,” he said after his team beat Charlotte 58-10. “I appreciate the fans that were there today. I know it was a dismal day playing again at 7:30 again in bad weather most of the day and cold and greatly appreciate the fans that were there. And next week we need everybody in those seats and we need it filled and to come root for this team because we're going to put everything into it. But it will be a very important week and it will be a great atmosphere here next week, I'm sure.”

From Louisville, expect more misdirection from the quarterback position. Coach Bobby Petrino wouldn’t even discuss the QB situation after his team lost to Pitt 45-34.

“We just need regroup,” Petrino said. “. . . We need to come back and get ready, practice well and prepare well and go down and battle.”

Who will the quarterback be?

“We don’t need to talk about that right now,” Petrino said. “We need to evaluate the game, and then get on the practice field and make a decision.”

The fact is, Petrino probably can’t be sure which team will show up. Nor can Stoops be sure how his offense will fare against Louisville’s defense if it is able to stack itself up against his run game.

This isn’t the game it could have been. Kentucky shouldn’t still be fighting for a bowl bid this week, especially given the weakness of the SEC East this season. Louisville, frankly, just isn’t as good as it was expected to be. The talk of replacing its NFL losses on defense and being just as good was, without question, misguided. This defense isn’t as good. The offense is still in transition.

And the rivalry? Well, it’ll be heated as always. Kentucky has a motivational edge, playing for a bowl game. Louisville has been a little better, on balance, but probably not much.

Kentucky has more to lose — a .500 record and a trip to a bowl game. Louisville faces less pressure, but perhaps less necessity.

We’ll see if that motivation makes any difference.

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