The Cardinals (7-5) overcame three first-half interceptions that put them in a deep hole, but dominated the second half after making a quarterback change to the run-oriented Lamar Jackson and getting a lift from a defense that almost completely shut down the Wildcats.
Jackson, a freshman, got the call after Louisville starter Kyle Bolin struggled with two early interceptions. Jackson initially threw a pick of his own, but rebounded to finish with a stat line that included 130 yards passing, 186 yards rushing and three combined touchdowns. He averaged 10.9 yards per rushing attempt.
"We had guys in position, and they made us look foolish at times," UK head coach Mark Stoops said.
Defensively, Louisville held UK to 3-and-out six times in the second half. The other two drives for the Cats consisted of just four and five plays. Junior linebacker Devonte Fields led the defensive assault with six tackles -- all for losses -- and three sacks. Louisville won the total yardage battle 489-291.
Kentucky's two quarterbacks, Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, combined to complete only nine of 26 passes for 199 yards and an interception. Their job was made much more difficult after star running back Stanley "Boom" Williams suffered an elbow injury in the first half after picking up 37 yards and a touchdown on his first seven carries of the day. His backup, Jojo Kemp, was also limited to five carries after rolling an ankle in the first half.
The Wildcats (5-7) lost a shot at bowl eligibility in the final game of the regular season for a second consecutive year against Louisville, which took home the Governor's Cup trophy for the fifth consecutive year.
"We're not pleased with the way we finished again," Stoops said. "I know the fans are not happy. And I'm not happy. It's disappointing. It's tough."
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
What Went Wrong:
Leading big in the first half, the Cats missed a golden opportunity to put Louisville in a deeper hole by squandering great field position on four occasions. Drives that featured first down at the UofL 25, UofL 32 and UK 44 yielded no points. Another possession with first-and-goal at the 9 produced a field goal just before the half. That was four opportunities to put the game away, and UK would get only one scoring opportunity the remainder of the game. Defensively, UK had no answers for the familiar read-option game that has hurt it repeatedly in the past. Stoops cited poor outside linebacker play for allowing Jackson to break free on multiple occasions.
By The Numbers:
1st - Loss by UK under Stoops when leading at halftime.
2nd - Largest comeback win for Louisville in the history of its program. The Cards overcame a 23-point third quarter deficit in a 1987 game against Tulane.
5 - The longest winning streak for either program since the annual series resumed in 1994.
14-14 - Louisville evened the all-time series with Kentucky.
19 of the last 20 - Winners of the Governor's Cup have won the rushing battle. UofL had 314 yards rushing, compared to just 92 for UK.
21 - UK's first-quarter points equaled the most in program history last set in 2005 against Vanderbilt.
"We're going to have a grueling offseason, get mentally and physically tougher. We've got to kick it up some serious notches to compete at a higher level. And we will do that. We've got a good nucleus of players coming back, and we've got to coach them better and work harder in the offseason." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops.
Kentucky's season likely ends at 5-7, but there are some scenarios in which all the available bowl games may not have enough eligible six-win teams from which to choose.