Why loss to Kentucky doesn't diminish how Louisville football views season's turnaround

Out of all the games on 25th-ranked Louisville football’s schedule, defensive back Josh Minkins wanted to beat Kentucky bad.

Real bad.

As a Ballard High School grad and son of Josh Minkins Sr., a former Cardinal, he’s grown up around the Governor’s Cup and knows how much it means to the area. If there was only one game the Cardinals won this season, it would have to be Kentucky. Given U of L’s momentum after having two wins over top-25 opponents and entering the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time since 2016, this was the perfect time to make it happen.

Unfortunately for Minkins and Louisville, history repeated itself for a fourth straight time as the Wildcats downed the Cardinals 26-13 and improved their series lead to 19-15.

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Louisville quarterback Brock Domann (19) passes under pressure in the end zone during the Cards' loss to the Wildcats in the 2022 Governor's Cup game Saturday afternoon. Nov. 26, 2022
Louisville quarterback Brock Domann (19) passes under pressure in the end zone during the Cards' loss to the Wildcats in the 2022 Governor's Cup game Saturday afternoon. Nov. 26, 2022

The Governor’s Cup loss stings for a Louisville program stuck playing little brother to Kentucky (7-5), which won the very first meeting 110 years ago and the next five after. On a broader scale, though, it shouldn’t fully take away from what the Cardinals were able to do in the latter half of this season.

U of L (7-5) managed to win four of its final six contests — billed as having one of the toughest final six games among any team in the country — and outscored those opponents 131-51. It reached bowl eligibility in back-to-back years for the first time under head coach Scott Satterfield and won seven games for the second time during his tenure.

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“We've had a good back half of our season,” the team’s fourth-year head coach said. “We've had some great wins, and done some really good things, went 5-1 at Cardinal Stadium this year. That was awesome.”

The way Satterfield and Co. turned the team around is well-documented. The Cardinals started the year 2-3 and lost to Boston College at the beginning of October. Reports suggested Satterfield was perhaps days away from losing his job. Then they beat Virginia without Malik Cunningham under center and just as quickly as the scrutiny aimed at Satterfield intensified, he drew praise for the Cardinals’ turnaround over the last 1 ½ months.

Yet for as positive as the latter half of the season went, U of L still couldn't beat its rival, which found itself in a skid and looked vulnerable.

Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield yells at the officiating in the first half in Saturday's Governors Cup college football game. Nov. 26, 2022.
Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield yells at the officiating in the first half in Saturday's Governors Cup college football game. Nov. 26, 2022.

But Louisville couldn't force Kentucky into turnovers, a theme of the Cardinals' second-half run.

In the Cardinals’ previous five games, they totaled nine fumble recoveries and seven interceptions for a total of 16 turnovers. Kentucky didn't cough the ball up once Saturday night.

“They really didn't throw the ball as much as we expected them to,” Minkins said of UK. “They just kept running the ball. So, when the team is running the ball like James Madison did, just kind of hard to get turnovers unless you just get a fumble, but they (the Wildcats) were conservative with the ball.”

“We were one of the best teams in the country in the turnover margin and that's why we won the seven games,” he said. “That's the one tell-tale stat that we can look back for this season to see the makeup of this team. When we do that, when we take care of the ball, we create turnovers, we're gonna be a hard team to beat.”

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But U of L did not create turnovers and instead gave up three of its own. And for the fourth time in five years the Wildcats took home the Governor's Cup, leaving the Cardinals to disappointed as it prepares for a bowl game.

“I think we just take this game, we build on from it,” Minkins said. “The dudes that's coming back, we've got 365 days ‘til we play again. … We've got to go into the offseason, just ready to get ready to work.”

Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at acubit@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville football loses to UK: Loss doesn't diminish 2022 season