Louisville AT Kentucky
Who:No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (2-0) @ Kentucky Wildcats (1-1)
When:Saturday at noon
Where:Commonwealth Stadium (Lexington, KY)
About the series
Series record:Kentucky leads 14-11 - Last meeting: 2012, 32-14 (Louisville)
About each team
**- Louisville enters its meeting with rival Kentucky ranked No. 7 in the country and a perfect 2-0 having notched blowout victories over Ohio and Eastern Kentucky. The Cardinals have been dominant through the first two weeks, outscoring their opponents by a combined 79 points.
**- The Wildcats improved their record to 1-1 last week with a convincing 41-7 win over Miami (Ohio) in Commonwealth Stadium. After struggling on both sides of the ball in their season-opening loss to Western Kentucky, the Wildcats showed vast improvement in week two against the Red Hawks- especially on offense. The Wildcats accumulated 675 yards of offense against Miami (Ohio). Their 413 passing yards more than doubles the amount they posted against WKU.
**- For Kentucky, coach Mark Stoops is now two games into his tenure with the Wildcats after taking over the program last November. Stoops is receiving his first shot as a head coach after spending two decades as a defensive assistant with the likes of South Florida, Miami (Fla.), and Arizona. Prior to taking the UK job, Stoops was the defensive coordinator for Jimbo Fisher at Florida State from 2010 to 2012.
**- Now in his fourth year as head coach for the University of Louisville, Charlie Strong has improved his head coaching record to 27-14 following the team's first two victories of 2013. Strong and the Cardinals are seeking their third straight conference title and fourth consecutive season of bowl-eligibility.
Inside the numbers
93-14 - The combined score of Louisville's first two games. The Cardinals dominated Ohio and Eastern Kentucky to outscore the two teams by a combined 79 points.
239 - Kentucky's average rushing yards per game in 2013. The total is over 100 yards better than the 138 average Louisville holds.
19 - Career touchdown receptions for Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker. The total ties him with J.R. Russell for third on U of L's all-time list. Parker has three scoring catches this season.
4 - Consecutive weeks, starting Saturday, that Kentucky will face an opponent ranked within the top 25. After hosting the No. 7 Cardinals, Kentucky will face No. 18 Florida, No. 13 South Carolina, and No. 1 Alabama.
9 - Touchdown passes for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 2013, good for tops in the nation through two weeks.
221.5 - Passer rating compiled by Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith in last week's win over Miami (Ohio). Smith completed 65 percent of his passes while racking up 310 yards and three touchdown passes.
7 - Different players that have scored touchdowns for the Cardinals through two games. Robert Clark, DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Kai De La Cruz, and Gerald Christian have all caught at least one touchdown pass, while Senorise Perry and Michael Dyer have each tallied a rushing score.
2.7 - Average yards per rush being allowed by the Louisville defense this season. The number is down from the 4.3 average surrendered last season.
What to watch for
Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told Cardinal Authority earlier this week that the offense will now focus on featuring two running backs, as opposed to using the three-headed attack of Perry, Brown, and Dyer that has split carries through the first two weeks. Watson did not say who the two lead backs would be, so fans will be interested in watching who is utilized, and how so, in the U of L backfield.
Also in the Louisville run game, Kamran Joyer, who had previously been sidelined with a leg injury, will replace Chris Acosta at right guard this week. Joyer, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound redshirt senior, was expected to be the starter heading into the season. Watson said on Tuesday that the Cardinals were "one (block) away" from springing a handful of big runs against Eastern Kentucky. Watson and the Cardinals are hoping that Joyer can be that one block.
On offense, Kentucky has shown a desire to spread the defense with their "air-raid" offense. The Wildcats currently rank in the top-25 in passing yards-per-game, with an average of 308. Receiver Javess Blue will be the biggest playmaking-threat that the Louisville secondary has faced thus far. Against Miami (Ohio), Blue caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, including an 88-yard catch and run.
Against Western Kentucky in week one, the Wildcats struggled in pass-coverage- especially against the Hilltoppers' tight ends. WKU's two tight ends, Mitchell Henry and Tyler Higbee, combined for nine catches, 106 yards, and a touchdown in the 35-26 win. Louisville tight ends saw more incorporation last week, with Gerald Christian leading the way (five rec., 74 yards, touchdown). Christian may have another big week against UK. Watch for how much freedom quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will have in calling plays for the Louisville offense. It's been revealed that Bridgewater is given the keys to the no-huddle, or "NASCAR", offense in terms of play-calling, but a scene was created last week when Bridgewater waved off the punt team on a fourth-and-two. A visibly angry coach Strong was forced to call a timeout and greeted Bridgewater on the sideline with an earful. After the game, Strong, half-jokingly, said "sometimes you've got to take the keys away."
Finally, this year's edition of the rivalary could have BCS implications. Because the meeting with U of L kicks off a brutal stretch for the Wildcats, impressive numbers for the Cardinals could be crucial. As Kentucky will face Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama in the following weeks, this game could serve as a comparative barometer for voters to judge the Cardinals' status as an elite team.
Keys to the game
--A focus for Louisville will be finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. On three occasions against Eastern Kentucky, Cardinal drives stalled and the team had to settle for field goal attempts- twice from inside the EKU 25 yard-line and once from inside the ten. Despite its inability to capitalize at all times against EKU, the Cardinals are still tied at No. 16 in the nation in scoring offense.
--The Louisville defense has been dominant thus far, allowing two touchdowns in as many weeks and holding opponents to a total of 479 yards. The unit ranks No. 13 in team defense. However, the team has shown the tendency to lapse on occasion- especially in the passing game. On the season, the Cardinals have allowed completions of 47, 37, 36, and 31 yards. Stopping the big play against Kentucky will be imperative, as they do have a handful of wide outs with the ability to get loose given the opportunity.
--Suspect coverage on kickoffs was arguably Louisville's biggest deficiency last week. Both of Eastern Kentucky's return men, Stanley Absanon and Trey Thomas, averaged 30 yards-per-return. Absanon returned five kicks total, amassing 146 yards. Field position may not be a large worry when facing Eastern Kentucky, but against Kentucky it could be key.
--The strength of the Kentucky defense lies within their front four. In senior defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph the Wildcats have two experienced hole-cloggers that have the ability to wreck havoc on a backfield. On the outside are two defensive ends possessing great length (Za'Darius Smith is 6-for-6 and Alvin "Bud" Dupree is 6-foot-4) that could affect Teddy Bridgewater's ability to throw the ball downfield. If the group can create pressure on Bridgewater and hold the Louisville running game at bay, the Wildcats could have a shot.
Although the No. 7 Cardinals enter the game as the heavy favorite, Coach Strong & Co. aren't taking the trip to Lexington lightly, and, as some other coaches might, Strong is not downplaying the rivalry aspect.
"When you look at our schedule all games are big games, but let's face it, some games are bigger than others. Some carry a little more significance than others and this is one of those games," Strong said at his weekly media conference on Monday. "Not only is it a rivalry game but it's our first road test."
"We're going to have to pack our defense, pack our kicking game, pack our discipline and togetherness. We have to play a complete game for 60 minutes."
Much about the Cardinals stands to be learned on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for noon.
Jody Demling:Too much Teddy, Cards win 35-21.
Michael McCammon:Cards win the ground game and the game, 38-16.
Corey Goodlett:Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville offense will prove themselves far too much to handle for the Kentucky defense. Louisville 45, Kentucky 17