"I knew coming in that playing on the road we would have to play our best," said U of L head coach Charlie Strong. "We came into a situation where we were going to get their best."
Offensively, it was a tale of two different halfs. The Cardinals struggled to move the ball with consistency throughout the first half of play. Kentucky's decision to utilize a five-man front confused the offense during the first 30 minutes of play. The typically very accurate Teddy Bridgewater was rushed to throw on many occassions and completed 8 of 15 attempts for just 91 yards in the opening half. The ground game struggled as well, rushing for 62 yards on 20 carries.
Following U of L's victory over EKU a week earlier, head coach Charlie Strong stressed the importance of scoring touchdowns when in the red zone. On their first visit into the Kentucky red zone the offense stalled and it was kicker John Wallace that put the Cardinals on the scoreboard with a 36-yard field goal. The team's first touchdown didn't come until late in the second quarter when DeVante Parker hauled in a Bridgewater pass in the back corner of the end zone. The Cardinals punted more times in the first half than they had in the entire 60 minutes of their first two games.
Holding a 10-3 advantage after the break, the Cardinals scored on their first three possessions in the second half. A 1-yard touchdown run by Senorise Perry capped off 9 play, 83 yard drive to open the second half. A John Wallace 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter gave the Cardinals a comfortable 20-3 lead. Bridgewater was 6 of 8 for 120 yards in the third quarter alone. Perry added a 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't Bridgewater's best outing. The junior, who told reporters that he "just wasn't as accurate as always," completed just 57% of his attempts for 250 yards. The offensive line struggled early, allowing a sack and not creating holes for the ground game. The rushing attack started slow, but picked up steam in the second half and finished with 242 yards on the game. Perry rushed for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries, while Michael Dyer ran for 62 yards and Dominique Brown added 35 yards.
The game ball should go to the defense. While there were a few missed assignments and missed tackles, the Cardinals defense performed well throughout. They limited the Wildcats to only 6 points before going to prevent late in the game and allowed a 15 play, 75-yard touchdown drive for the games final score.
Linebackers Preston Brown and James Burgess led the way with 7 tackles each. With UK threatening to tie the score late in the first half, Brown's fumble recovery of a botched handoff at the U of L 14 yard line allowed the Cardinals to maintain the momentum.
Including Brown's fumble recovery, the defense forced three turnovers on Saturday afternoon. Defensive end Marcus Smith forced and recovered a fumble when he hit UK quarterback Jason Whitlow at the Kentucky 27 yard line, leading to U of L's first score of the game. Cornerback Charles Gaines recorded his first career interception when he made a great play on the ball at the U of L 2 yard line, ending a Wildcat third quarter scoring threat.
Lorenzo Mauldin had another solid outing. The junior defensive end forced a fumble, notched his team-leading third sack of the season and had two additional tackles for a loss.
"Very pleased with how we played on defense," Strong said.
It wasn't a great outing for the special teams unit. While Wallace converted two field goals, his forth quarter attempt from the 20 yard line was blocked, ending the team's red zone perfection on the season. The kickoff return coverage was to pourous again, with Kentucky averaging 26.8 yards per return. The Louisville kickoff return team managed only 12.8 yards on four returns.
Seeing more action than in the first two games, punter Ryan Johnson was a highlight for the special teams. The junior averaged 47.8 yards per punt. He had one touchback, placed one inside the 20 and had two go for over 50 yards.
It was Louisville's first road test of the season and it came in the home of a bitter rival. The Cardinals were a two touchdown favorite and they left Commonwealth with a 14 point win to remain undefeated.
It wasn't as pretty or follow a script that most anticipated, but the Cardinals remained focused and determined to achieve success through the air and on the ground. They did that by gaining 492 total yards of offense, averaging over 7 yards per play. While it did get some help from the Kentucky receivers dropping multiple passes, the Louisville defense played very well and proved that it continues to improve.
During post game, it was evident that the team wasn't overly pleased by their performance. While last season may have been a year of growth for the team, for back-to-back weeks the theme has been the same - the need to respect the opponent.
"We learned that you have to respect your opponent," Bridgewater said, echoing similar thoughts following U of L's win over EKU last weekend. "We're not as good as we think we are so we learned to stay humble and respect opponents."
"Overall, very pleased, but we could have played better," said Strong.