LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Las Vegas hung a wild, crazy and ultimately absurd point spread on the Kentucky-Louisville football game. I needed to know why.
How could a 6-5 Louisville team sitting in the middle of the pack in an ordinary Atlantic Coast Conference be favored by 3 points over an 8-3 Kentucky team that finished second to top-ranked Georgia in the East Division of the Southeastern Conference?
Seemed silly. Borderline outrageous. Point spread malpractice.
"I didn't understand it," UK coach Mark Stoops said. "Yeah, it pissed me off."
I asked several sharp football observers to explain. They told me one reason was Louisville had been getting superior quarterback play from Malik Cunningham, certainly more dynamic play than Kentucky was getting from its quarterback Will Levis, who was throwing too many interceptions.
That’s not what happened Saturday night in Cardinal Stadium.
Levis outran, out-passed and out-classed the Cardinals. A 3-point underdog, the Wildcats won by 31 and out-gained U of L by 159 yards.
Make it Kentucky 52, Louisville 21, and mark it down as another loss that will have U of L fans groaning about the direction of the program under Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals were dominated across the offensive and defensive lines -- and the scoreboard.
"I know our team and I knew we could come in here and play the way we did today," Levis said.
This game was as one-sided as this series has become. Kentucky has now won three straight, by 46, 32 and 31. If you’re scoring at home that is an average of 36.3 points, with the first loss pinned on Bobby Petrino and the last two on Satterfield, whose team does not have the playmakers that Kentucky has.
By the middle of the fourth quarter the majority of the fans in the stadium were root, root, rooting for Kentucky, including a pocket that sat in the first three rows behind the Louisville bench chanting, “GO BIG BLUE!” After the game several media members recognized the smell of cigar smoke outside the UK locker room.
About that point spread, again.
"I didn't get it," Stoops said. "Take a look at the score."
Credit Levis, the Penn State transfer, for all the celebration. He ran for three touchdowns in the first half to ignite the Kentucky victory. He started on the first drive, marching UK 75 yards for a touchdown in six plays, punctuated by his 29-yard scoring run, directly through the middle of the Louisville defense.
He did not stop. Levis finished with 14 rushes for 113 yards, which were nearly as many Louisville generated with its running game. He scored four touchdowns. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards and did not throw an interception.
"Will never takes a second off," UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. "He doesn't ever settle for mediocrity. He's just a dog."
Levis had four runs of 10 yards or more, usually on quarterback draw plays. The Louisville defense failed to adjust.
"We literally called the same play four or five times," Levis said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The yardage and touchdowns were season highs for Levis, who aggravated the Louisville crowd by flashing one, two, three and then four fingers after each of his scores. He taunted the Cards on social media early in the week and backed it up with his play on Saturday evening.
Levis said that typically he is not a trash talker but that he got into the spirit of the rivalry this week, especially after watching videos of recent UK wins that featured guys like Benny Snell.
"It felt natural," he said.
Louisville responded to Kentucky’s opening drive by also going 75 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats continued the pattern by finishing the first quarter with another 75-yard TD drive.
That is where the touchdown trading stopped. The Wildcats scored 38 straight points and had this one secure by halftime. Halfback Chris Rodriguez also had a terrific night, rushing 16 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.
"It felt good to put it all together," Stoops said. "Our players deserve it. They've worked hard all year. They've overachieved ... they've accomplished a lot."
The Cardinals looked as if they had finally stopped the UK blitz when Cunningham threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Marshon Ford with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
The Cards an ineligible receiver downfield and the touchdown was waved off. But after Cunningham went to the locker room with an injury, reserve Evan Conley threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Josh Johnson.
Conley also led the Cards on another consolation scoring drive in the final 8 seconds.
For Louisville the primary highlights were a sideline visit from rap music star Jack Harlow and recognition for Howard Schnellenberger, whose persistence in pushing for this game brought the Governor’s Cup rivalry onto the schedule on an annual basis in 1994.
Schnellenberger was honored with a video tribute. U of L athletic director Vince Tyra presented his family a framed jersey during a first quarter timeout. Schnellenberger’s wife, Beverlee, was also midfield for the coin toss.
Schnellenberger was 87 when he died in South Florida last March. An All-American receiver at Kentucky for Bear Bryant, Schnellenberger coached Louisville for 10 seasons, winning Fiesta and Liberty bowls.
At 6-6, the Cardinals will return to a bowl game this season, but it won’t be the Fiesta or Liberty bowl.
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