Game Twelve: Louisville at Cincinnati

Louisville will close out the regular season on Thursday night at rival Cincinnati. This is the 53rd meeting in the battle for the Keg of Nails.

Who: No. 19 Louisville at Cincinnati

What: Battle for the Keg of Nails

When: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati, Ohio)

Series History: Cincinnati leads 30-21-1. Last meeting: 2012, 34-31 (Louisville)

About each team

** Louisville (10-1) heads to Cincinnati (9-2) eleven days removed from their last game- a 24-17 home victory over old rival Memphis. The win improved the Cardinals to 10-1 on the season, and extended the team's current win streak to four. Still sitting second in the American Athletic Conference behind Central Florida, the Cardinals are the No. 19-ranked team in the country.

** At 9-2, the Cincinnati Bearcats are winners of six straight, and eight of their last nine. Behind UCF and Louisville, the Bearcats are the AAC's third place team, with a 6-1 record in the conference. The team has shown flashes of dominance against inferior competition, handling the likes of Purdue (42-7), Temple (38-20), Connecticut (41-16), and Rutgers (52-17).

** Following the win over Memphis, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong is now 35-15 as a head coach. Now 10-1 in 2013, Strong is the first coach in program history to lead the Cardinals to two consecutive seasons of ten or more wins.

** Bearcat coach Tommy Tuberville is nearing the end of his first season at the helm in Cincinnati. A long-time NCAA head coach, Tuberville has compiled a 139-79 record over 17 seasons. He's arguably best known for his time as the head man at Auburn, where he led the Tigers to eight consecutive bowl games and became the only coach in Auburn history to beat rival Alabama six straight times. Tuberville took the Cincinnati job last December, when former coach Butch Jones accepted the head job at Tennessee.

Inside the numbers

147.6 - The Louisville offense has averaged 347.7 yards in their last three victories over Connecticut, Huston, and Memphis. That's a 147.6 yards-per-game decrease from the 495.3 the team posted through its first eight games.

2 - Number of times Cincinnati has lost at home since 2011. A Nov. 12, 2011 loss to West Virginia and a Nov. 17, 2012 loss to Rutgers are the only blemishes in the three-year span.

156.6 - Career passer rating for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The rating is the program's third-best among qualifying quarterbacks. Stefan LeFors' 159.8 rating is the school's best, just in front of Brian Brohm's 157.9.

3.0 - Yards-per-rush allowed by Cincinnati this season. As the nation's fourth best rushing defense, the Bearcats have allowed opponents an average of 91.5 yards on the ground per game.

124 - Career receptions for Louisville receiver Eli Rogers. One of Bridgewater's favorite targets, Rogers' total places him 14th on the school's all-time list- the highest ranking of any active Cardinal.

26 - Total touchdowns this season for Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay, who took over as the Bearcats‘ starter after Munchie Legaux sustained a gruesome knee injury at Illinois. Kay has thrown for 22 of those scores, while putting together a 161.3 quarterback rating, and has ran for four- good enough for second on the team.

25 - Career touchdown receptions for DeVante Parker after his 39-yard score against Memphis. The total is good for third place on the school's all-time list behind Arnold Jackson (31) and Ibn Green (33)

1 - Regular season football game left for the Cardinals as members of the American Athletic Conference. Joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, Louisville will have home games against Florida State and Miami (FL), and road games at Notre Dame and Clemson.

What to watch for

- With Louisville headed to the ACC next season, Thursday marks what could be the final Battle for the Keg of Nails for some time. A rivalry that dates back to 1929, the Cardinals and Bearcats have met 52 times- including every year between 1966 and 1992, and every year from 1996 to the present. Expect a highly emotional and passionate atmosphere created by both the fans and players on Thursday evening.

- On the field, expect a defensive battle between two of the nation's top ten teams in terms of scoring defense. At 18.5, Cincinnati is allowing their opponents the nation's tenth best average, while Louisville's 11.4 average is No. 3 in the nation. If the Cardinals can hold the Bearcat offense at bay, and assuming the Cardinal offense continues its streak of bland offensive performances, the game could easily be decided in the low-twenties.

-On the other hand, though, the game could be a shootout. Both offenses average better than 300 yards passing per game, and each defense has shown vulnerability. Louisville allowed a season-worst 38 points against UCF, and let the Knights drive 75 yards for the winning score when the teams met in October. Cincinnati doesn't have UCF on their schedule, therefore making Huston freshman John O'Korn arguably the best passer they've faced. If one team gets an early lead, the other may be forced to pass their way back in to the game.

Keys to the game

- Yet again, capitalizing on turnovers will be key for the Cardinals. Against Memphis, the Cardinals had two takeaways- an interception by defensive back Charles Gaines and a fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Preston Brown. While the Cardinals got a score from Brown's return, the offense was unable to generate any points off of Gaines‘ pick- stalling on a failed fourth down attempt. Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay has thrown nine interceptions in his nine starts this season. If the Cardinals can nab one of Kay's throws, points will be crucial to seizing control of the game.

- Another key for Louisville will be to avoid falling into a lull. Offensively, the Cardinals have averaged just eight points in the second half of their last three wins. But offense is not the only side of the ball that Louisville has been known to fall asleep on. Against Memphis, the Cardinals were outscored 14-7 in the final two quarters, causing what looked to be a comfortable Cardinal win to change drastically. Against Cincinnati, the Cardinals must avoid going on cruise control, no matter what the score.

- Charlie Strong and the Louisville staff were insistent going into the game with Memphis that the Cardinals had to clean up their penalty problem. The Cardinals failed to do so, racking up eight penalties for a total of 72 yards against the Tigers. In their last four games, the Cardinals have committed 35 infractions for a total of 328 yards. Until the Cardinals show they can play penalty-free football, it will continue to hurt them.

- This week, the Louisville defense can afford to go with a "bend-don't-break" approach. While the Bearcat offense has shown the ability to be explosive, their kicking game has been dismal. Cincinnati kicker Tony Miliano, a junior, has connected on just five of his 14 field goal attempts this season. Miliano is four for 12 on tries of longer than 30 yards. To make matters worse, he's missed two extra points. If the Cardinals can keep Cincinnati out of the end zone, they'll be comfortable seeing Miliano trot onto the field.

Final word

Thursday's 53rd Battle for the Keg of Nails could be the last for some time. The greatness of the rivalry has not been lost on Charlie Strong, who expressed some disappointment that the series could write its final chapter this week.

"It's been a big rivalry for us," Strong said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "You like playing a team because they're so close. You look at Dominique (Brown) and Preston (Brown) and some of the guys that are in our program who grew up in Cincinnati and they know a lot of those players there."

"You just hate to see a rivalry like the one we've established and now we're going to walk away, because you're going into a different conference now."

Kickoff at Nippert Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN.

Staff predictions

Jody Demling - Weather and defense dictate the pace of the game. Louisville's offense is the difference. U of L 20-17

Michael McCammon - The Cardinal offense is explosive when needed, but hasn't been consistent as of late. Facing one of the nation's best defenses in sloppy weather won't help. Defense wins this game and Louisville's is better. Another Keg of Nails nail-biter. Cardinals 24 Bearcats 23.

Corey Goodlett - The Cardinals once again show their identity- slow offense, great defense - as they eek out a close one and keep the Keg of Nails for the foreseeable future. Cards win, 21-20.

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