It was billed as a resurgent Louisville football taking on a slumping Kentucky; Malik Cunningham seeking his first win as a starter over the Wildcats against Will Levis; a chance for U of L's Scott Satterfield to get his first win in the series.
Toss the script out. Kentucky reminded the Cardinals who is the best team in the state, beating their rivals 26-13, the fourth straight Wildcats win in the Governor's Cup series. It was a nearly completely performance.
Here's how each team's offense, defense and special teams graded out in Saturday's 34th meeting as the Wildcats improved to 19-15 all-time against U of L.
Hint: the Wildcats got higher marks.
The game could have been a blowout had the Kentucky offense taken advantage of scoring opportunities. The Wildcats had drives stall at the Louisville 25-, 11-, 17- and 22-yard lines. UK got field goals in all four instances — more on that later — but the offense had its chances. Particularly damning: A Louisville fumble, caused and recovered by J.J. Weaver, set up the Cats at the U of L 6-yard line, and they couldn’t find paydirt.
Still, the much-maligned Kentucky offensive line was solid. Levis wasn’t at his best — 11 of 19, 188 yards, two touchdowns — but he was better than he’d been much of the latter half of the season, picking the Cards apart with some short throws UK has struggled to turn into yardage. And on a key drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters, UK ate up 60 yards and 7:17 on a drive that ended with a field goal and put the Cats in front 26-7.
And though Kentucky struggled to get in the end zone, running back Chris Rodriguez played a huge part in icing the game, finishing with 20 carries for 124 yards.
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The Cards were at their best on a late second-quarter drive under the direction of starter-turned-backup Cunningham. Louisville marched 64 yards in 12 plays, and Cunningham ran into the end zone from 6 yards out to score. The score came with 3:21 to play in the half, cut the UK lead to 13-7 and gave U of L significant momentum heading into halftime, with possession to start the third quarter.
But Louisville went three-and-out on the opening drive of the third, and Cunningham threw an interception on the second. Kentucky got a touchdown on its ensuing possession, and the Cards’ next score came with the game all but out of reach.
The musical QBs — Brock Domann started, then went to the bench, then returned after Cunningham was injured in the second half — didn’t help the Louisville offense, but running back Jawhar Jordan did his part, carrying 22 times for 145 yards.
The Cats picked off each Louisville quarterback once and forced two fumbles (recovering one), generally looking like the more physical, big-play defense. Weaver finished with seven tackles, including a sack, a pass breakup and the forced-and-recovered fumble.
Kentucky finished with four sacks, significant given that it entered the game with a pass rush considered inferior to its rival’s. Five Wildcats had at least a half sack.
UK was at its best in the decisive third quarter, when it held Louisville to 17 total yards on 10 plays. The Cats outscored the Cards 10-0 in the quarter.
On paper, the Cards’ biggest advantage entering the game was their pass rush. But U of L sacked Levis just twice and didn’t spend nearly as much time in the Kentucky backfield as most prognosticators predicted.
The Cards didn’t force a turnover, a critical shortcoming.
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And though Louisville kept Kentucky out of the end zone when it had chances to score — and limited the Cats to 3 for 11 on third down — the defense never really had control of the game in the second half.
Monty Montgomery had nine tackles to lead Louisville. Star Yaya Abdullah had four tackles, none for loss.
The Wildcats played effectively mistake-free football in the third phase, which has rarely been the case all season. And kicker Matt Ruffolo played the game of his career, making all four of his field goal attempts and both extra-point tries. The senior entered the game having made 12 of 20 field goals this season.
UK would have liked touchdowns on each of those drives. But so often this season, the Cats’ stalled drives came up empty. Salvaging special-teams points was a key to the game.
For good measure, UK punter Wilson Berry pinned Louisville at the 1-yard line on a late fourth-quarter punt.
The Cards didn’t do anything wrong on special teams. Mark Vassett put two of his four punts inside the 20. James Turner made the only PAT he attempted. But Kentucky mostly kept the ball out of the hands of Louisville’s big-play threats in the kicking game. Louisville’s Braden Smith returned one kick for 30 yards.
Reach Louisville men’s basketball reporter Brett Dawson at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @BDawsonWrites.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Grading Governor's Cup performances by Louisville, Kentucky football