In rolling to wins the past three years, Louisville has completely dominated rival Kentucky on the ground, out-rushing the Wildcats 238 to 74. During that time, Bobby Petrino's Cardinals have out-scored Kentucky 101-48, proving that a sound ground attack – and the ability to stop the run – are important to success in the series.
"Every team we go against, stopping the run is always our first goal," senior defensive captain Amobi Okoye said. "We want to have them go to the air."
Last season, Louisville running back Michael Bush punished the Wildcats on the ground, leading all rushers with 127 yards and two scores. Conversely, Louisville held UK's Raphael Little in check, limiting the Cats' top rusher to just 71 yards.
Slowing Little, a shifty 5'11, 195 pound junior, will be a top priority for the Louisville defense.
"He's able to make something out of nothing," U of L middle linebacker Nate Harris said. "He's got great hands and he's just a great back to go against."
Since taking over the Louisville job for John L. Smith, Petrino has favored a run-heavy approach against Kentucky. Last season, even with Heisman candidate Brian Brohm at quarterback, the Cardinals still rushed 19 more times than they threw the ball.
U of L senior lineman Kurt Quarterman, an offensive captain and starter at guard, expects more of the same this time around.
"I think we're going to run the ball a lot," he said.
Kurt Quarterman will pave the way for
Michael Bush and the U of L ground
attack Sunday against Kentucky.
Clinging to a 31-24 lead with 6:21 left in the game last season, the Louisville offense, behind the strong running of the 6'3, 250 pound Bush, converted three first downs to run out the clock and preserve their third straight victory over the Wildcats.
How important is Michael Bush to the Cardinals chances for success Sunday? Louisville is virtually unbeatable when Bush rushes for 100 yards or more. In fact, when Bush tops the 100 yard mark, Louisville is 8-1, the only loss a 46-44 triple-overtime setback last season on the road against West Virginia.
Once again, Bush figures to play a prominent role for Cardinals against the 'Cats.
"When I'm running ball, I've just got to stay tough and take care of the ball," Bush said. "Last year, it came down to running out the clock. There's no such thing as being fresh in the fourth quarter, you've just got to suck it up and be mentally tough.
The responsibility for stopping Little, who rushed for 1,045 yards last season, will largely fall to the Cardinals talented linebacker corps – a speedy and experienced unit that will go two deep across the board.
"I feel like we're ready for this game coming up Sunday," said Harris. "We've been practicing all summer and winter with the goal of beating Kentucky. I feel like we're ready physically and mentally. We've had a good camp and I feel like we're ready for this game."
Though there's been some movement on the depth chart along the offensive front for Louisville during fall camp – 6'3, 298 pound sophomore George Bussey moved from guard to weak-side tackle and 6'4, 298 pound junior Danny Barlow slid up the chart to replace Bussey at guard – Quarterman has faith that his new linemates will get the job done in the trenches.
"We've been working hard and coming together more as a unit," the 6'5, 330 pound Quarterman said. "We've got a lot to prove, but we'll be very good. We've had to get used to each other's blocks, but we came along real good throughout the summer."
For Bush, Sunday's game represents a final chance to play Kentucky as a collegian. A homegrown star, Bush has never tasted defeated against Kentucky – and he hopes to make it four in a row over the Wildcats this Sunday.
"This is a big game for everybody," he said. "It sets the tone for the rest of the season."