Both coaches agree on one thing when it comes to No. 15 Kentucky’s game against instate rival Louisville Saturday: You can forget about the records of the respective teams.
“I think anytime you play a rival, the guys on the other side are going to play harder,” said Louisville interim coach Lorenzo Ward, whose Cardinals (2-9) haven’t won since a 20-17 decision over Western Kentucky back on Sept. 15. “It’s about pride, so you can throw the records out. Regardless of how a season’s gone, it’s still the same as if we were undefeated.”
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops agrees that records are not a factor. His Wildcats (8-3) ended a brief two-game losing streak with last week’s 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee State.
“In a rivalry game you can throw the records out the window,” Stoops said. “We’re worried about ourselves and playing the best football we can and just finishing.
“I felt like our team played with a sense of urgency this past week that we’re striving for. I really like the way we got out of the gates and started fast and really played with a great sense of urgency. We’re looking to do the same thing here this week.”
The Cardinals will be playing just their second game under Ward, who was named to replace Bobby Petrino when Petrino was fired after a 2-8 start. But the first one was pretty much the same as the Cardinals’ first 10 games, a 52-10 whipping by North Carolina State. It marked the sixth time this season and fifth in the last six games the Cardinals have given up at least 50 points.
The Cardinals rank near the bottom of FBS statistics in several key categories, including total offense (105th), total defense (116th), scoring (119th), and points allowed (127th).
But Stoops doesn’t see any major changes in their approach under Ward.
“They’re not going to reinvent the wheel in the last week,” Stoops said. “They are gonna play the system that they play, and they’re going to play hard. You see it in every game that they’ve played.
“They play hard and they play aggressive and some big plays or some trick plays and things like that have gotten out of their comfort zone as well. We’re just worried about us and our execution and playing a disciplined football game.”
The Wildcats had somewhat of an offensive revival last week against Middle Tennessee State. With running back Benny Snell Jr. going for 116, they rushed for 203 yards and now will be against a Louisville defense that has given up an average of over 271 yards a game on the ground.
“I think he’s really worked on his patience,” Ward said of Snell, who is second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 1,205 yards. “He’s just not ramming it up in there.
“He’s trying to find open gaps, and then, he hits it. He has no problem balancing the football. He moves well. He’s physical. He drives his legs on contact. And then, he’s catching the ball out of the backfield well this season. So, he’s always been a really good back, but I think he’s more complete.”
The Cardinals also rely heavily on their running game.
Even in the big loss, they rushed for 254 yards against the Wolfpack, their most productive game since rushing for 346 in last year’s 44-17 win over the Wildcats.
The Wildcats look to have a slight edge at quarterback where Terry Wilson has completed 67 percent of his passes for 137 yards a game to the 54/178 of Louisville’s Javon Pass, but they have a big advantage on defense.
Louisville has no defender of the stature of Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen. He has an SEC best 13 sacks, three more than Louisville has as a team.
“I think we’d be not very smart as coaches if we don’t know where 41 is,” Ward said. “Again, he can destroy an offense. I was blessed to coach Jadeveon Clowney, and you had to know where he was on offense or he would destroy your game plan. So you’ve definitely got to know where Josh Allen is.”