SCOTT SATTERFIELD

Louisville coach Scott Satterfield on the sidelines during his team's 52-27 loss to Kentucky on Nov. 27, 2021.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The first step in the well-known 12-Step program for recovery of all kinds is to admit powerlessness. Admit you have a problem.

This is where things stand with the University of Louisville in relation to its series with the University of Kentucky after Saturday night's 52-21 beatdown in Cardinal Stadium, the Wildcats' third consecutive blowout win in the series.

Football can be pretty complicated, but its underlying foundational truth is simple. You win with numbers, size and speed.

In other sports, you can make up for a lack of those things with teamwork, skill and tactics. In football, you can hide shortcomings for a time, but you can't overcome physical inferiority.

Against Kentucky, Louisville is being pushed around. It has been outscored 153-44 in the past three meetings. The Wildcats have rushed for 1,219 yards and 18 touchdowns in those games. They have averaged 9 yards per carry.

There is no ambiguity. That is physical dominance.

Except, in Louisville coach Scott Satterfield's public statements after Saturday's loss, he didn't agree. He said that when Louisville went to Kentucky two years ago and Lynn Bowden rushed for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns, the Wildcats were physically dominant. On Saturday, he said that wasn't the case.

"I don't think it was a physical mismatch," Satterfield said. "I think we did not fit well. We'll go back and watch the film. I watched it just like you did tonight. It's hard to sit here, and I know there were holes and I know there were guys running free and their quarterback ran. One of the plays on third down, we bought pressure and he spins out of a tackle, and he picks up a big first down and they ended up scoring on that drive. That's not a physical mismatch, that's a missed tackle. We had several of those this evening and I thought that we didn't tackle well."

From senior defensive back Qwynnterrio Cole: "Their physicality wasn't the issue. They are physical, it just didn't go our way tonight. In all phases of the game, special teams, offense, defense, it was all Kentucky. Physicality wasn't an issue."

We're going to have to agree to disagree on this. Physicality is the issue. It's the main issue. To paraphrase James Bond author Ian Fleming (if the internet is to be believed): Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is a trend.

The reason that Malik Cunningham, who has run on just about everyone this season, didn't have a run for longer than 9 yards, is that Kentucky's defensive players were better, faster, stronger than the offense that was trying to go against them.

It used to be the other way around. The physical differences between the programs were glaring. They still are. It's just the other way around.

Now, I don't necessarily expect Satterfield to sit up in front of the media and admit that. If you're a coach, you can't just say, "Our players aren't good enough, we'll get better players." I've heard coaches do that, but in general, you want to don't want to drive the bus that players are being thrown under.

But when you play a game and force a team to punt only once, yeah, I get it, you didn't play well, but part of the reason you didn't play well is that you weren't physically able to play as well.

Now, there may be other factors. Satterfield was asked, "OK, you didn't play well, why is this Kentucky game, in particular game, a block for this program?" Because they've just managed to have "a bad game" now in both games Satterfield's teams have faced Kentucky.

And he knows this by now, the Kentucky game is not a good one to have "a bad night."

It's worth noting, Louisville was competitive against, say, Clemson, which is a physically talented team – though I'd suggest that Kentucky is a better team than Clemson this year, and maybe significantly so. Kentucky has had its own problems with bad nights in big games. But not against Louisville. For a program that looks likely to exit the annual series in the coming years, Kentucky sure seems to enjoy playing Louisville – and it should. That's what rivalry football is about.

Satterfield said he didn't know what it was about the Kentucky game that hasn't brought out the best in Louisville in recent years.

"That's a good question," Satterfield said. "I don't know what the big difference is. We didn't play well tonight. That's the bottom line. It wasn't just one side of the ball. I think had it been one side of the ball that didn't play well, then you're still going to be in the game, but it was both sides that didn't play well. When that happens, it snowballs on you and it’s not going to be a good outcome. For whatever reason, we didn't put it together on offense or defense, and this is what ended up happening.”

For whatever reason.

That reason is the key. The reason is that Louisville needs to be bigger, and better. Yes, the weight room is helpful, but it's about recruiting. It's a funny thing about mental hangups -- in sports, they often (not always) go away when you have overwhelming talent.

Kentucky's key transfer portal additions came from Penn State (Will Levis), Nebraska (Wan'Dale Robinson) and LSU (Dare Rosenthal).

You might get the occasional key contributor from non-Power 5 players, but you're not going to beat what Kentucky has put together with them.

And, to make things clear, getting back into position to beat Kentucky is now, after three straight blowouts, not just a priority, but the priority.

Satterfield said Saturday night that the loss to Kentucky shouldn’t obscure any progress made this season. But fair or unfair, the manner of the loss does exactly that.

"I'm not satisfied," Satterfield said. "I want to win every game just like everybody else. We're working hard every day to get better, and we got better this year. Compared to the last year, we got a lot better. We're still not where we want to be, we want to continue to get better, we want to continue to improve, continue to get players in here that can play and help us compete. I don't think you're ever satisfied unless you win it all.”

At this point, Louisville fans aren't asking to win it all. They're just asking to beat Kentucky. And right now, even that looks a long way off.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

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