Growing gap in Governor's Cup sign of Kentucky's physical superiority

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What Scott Satterfield saw as a snowball effect more closely resembled an avalanche.

It isn’t playing from behind that has made Louisville’s recent losses to Kentucky so lopsided. It isn’t so much a matter of missed tackles and gap control, as the U of L coach contends. The difference between the Wildcats and the Cardinals is more fundamental and less easily fixed.

“We are the more physical unit and it was obvious tonight,” UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen said after Saturday’s 52-21 thrashing at Cardinal Stadium. “It was a no-contest. And that’s the way it should be.”

That is the way it has been in each of the last three installments of the Governor’s Cup game. Kentucky continues to dominate the line of scrimmage, running the ball with impunity and leaving Louisville bemoaning blown assignments instead of acknowledging the dramatic disparity that has developed between the two teams.

More: Will Levis leads Kentucky football to third straight Governor's Cup blowout of Louisville

U of L has lost the last three Governor’s Cups by a combined score of 153-44, yielding more than 1,200 yards on the ground in the process and 18 – count ‘em, 18! --rushing touchdowns. In each of those three games, Kentucky has produced a pair of 100-yard rushers and averaged more than seven yards per rushing attempt.

Coincidence or foregone conclusion. You make the call.

Though some of Kentucky’s recent dominance is surely the product of schematics and screwups, recent evidence strongly suggests UK has achieved physical superiority over its in-state rival. Certainly, they have been forced to compete with more imposing specimens in the Southeastern Conference.

Maybe it means nothing, but the listed weights of Georgia’s defensive front seven are 157 pounds greater than Louisville’s. Everything else being equal, bigger and stronger is generally the way to go.

“It’s a different philosophy,” Kentucky guard Luke Fortner said. “They play in the ACC (where) they’ve got to be moving around faster and not so worried about the physical part. They kind of lost sight of that and we showed it tonight.’’

Did they ever. The Wildcats made 29 first downs while forced to third down only 10 times. They had six different backs record gains of at least 10 yards with quarterback Will Levis scoring four touchdowns. Despite the late hour, the Cats ran repeatedly to broad daylight.

UK receiver Wan’Dale Robinson said he laughed when he learned Louisville had been made a slight favorite by the bookmakers, and that the game had essentially mirrored his expectations. If the rout was not quite predestined, it wasn’t long before Robinson recognized the tell-tale signs of a thumping.

“You just see they’re not defensing whatever we’re doing and everything’s working and we can call about any play that we want and we’re going to make sure it works,” he said. “Just because we’re the most dominant team and we’re more physical than they are.”

UK football: 'It was so disrespectful': Why Kentucky football knew it would beat Louisville

It is a fact of football life that winners typically prefer to credit their physical prowess and conditioning rather than the superiority of their scheme or the excellence of their execution. Similarly, beaten teams customarily blame correctable flaws instead of intrinsic inferiority as it’s easier on the ego.

“I think (2019) was a mismatch for sure when we played them down there,” Satterfield said. “They couldn't throw the football then. we knew that they were going to run it and just didn't stop it and didn't tackle well.

“It was different tonight. I do think they blocked well tonight, but I don't think it was a physical mismatch. I think we did not fit well. . I know there were holes and I know there were guys running free and their quarterback ran. One of the plays on third down, we bought pressure and he spins out of a tackle, and he picks up a big first down and they ended up scoring on that drive. That's not a physical mismatch, that's a missed tackle. We had several of those this evening.”

There were also several plays reflective of raw power, when Kentucky’s offensive line was able to push Louisville back for productive runs up the middle. There were times when U of L’s defensive problems appeared to fit familiar patterns.

Asked what the Cardinals might do to close the gap, UK’s Fortner was disinclined to do Louisville any favors.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be Scott Satterfield.”

Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, tsullivan@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky football dominates Louisville, again at Governor's Cup game

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