Governing The Gridiron

By MIKE LINDSAY
@CrumsRevenge
Contributing Writer

The 2013 Governor’s Cup is fast approaching. Excitement surrounding the two programs in the past six months has been undeniable. For Louisville, coming off of a tremendous season with a 33-23 win over #3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. For UK, it was the hiring of Mark Stoops who has been setting the recruiting trail afire. If the momentum continues, this game could have national relevance in the next three years, which is a good thing. Starting next year the Governor’s Cup will be played at the end of the season alongside other ACC-SEC matchups Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, and Clemson vs. South Carolina.

In last year’s game, Louisville rolled to a 32-14 victory. It was so lopsided a matchup that Charlie Strong pulled Teddy Bridgewater in the third quarter. Coach Strong claims it was to let Will Stein get some reps. However, one can’t overlook that Coach Strong and Former UK Coach Joker Phillips were close as they coached together under Lou Holtz at South Carolina.

A look at the series history will reveal a few trends. First, the importance of winning the running game. The team with most rushing yards has won the past 17 games. Secondly, the rivalry has a few win-streaks; Louisville won four in-a-row (2003-2006); Kentucky returned the favor with four of their own (2007-2010), and Louisville is sitting at a current streak of two, while heavily favored heading into the big game on Sept. 14 at Commonwealth.

A look at recent history, the results from Week 1, will tell you these teams are not on the same level. Louisville steam rolled Ohio in its opener 49-7, a team that went 9-4 last year, won its conference, and won its bowl game. Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky for the second straight year, although this year under the command of former Louisville coach, and offensive mastermind, Bobby Petrino.

Looking at Louisville

Louisville is heading into the season with a head full of steam and hoping their perceived weaker schedule doesn’t block them from the national title discussion.

At the Governor’s Cup press conference, Coach Strong spoke about how the team needs to view the schedule, “We can’t worry about our schedule, the most important thing to us is ‘are we improving?’ It isn’t about our opponents, it is about us as a team, and we are trying to improve each and every game.”

While the future is unknown, one thing is certain, Louisville is loaded. Heisman candidate, junior Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, leads the offensive attack, which is loaded with skilled talented players. Teddy finished 2012 with 3,718 yards passing, 27 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions, and with a quarterback rating of 160.5. He is seen by many as a top 5 pick in next year’s NFL draft, possibly the first overall pick.
The wide receiver core is both deep and talented. It features 2012 reception leader Damian Copeland (50 catches), and Devante Parker. Parker a local product from Ballard High School is seen as a potential first round NFL draft pick if he can continue his outstanding production from 2012 where he led Louisville wide receivers in yardage (700), yardage per catch (18.6), and touchdowns (10). He averaged one touchdown for every four catches. Florida transfers tight end Gerald Christian, and wide receiver Robert Clark, also to be figured into the mix.

The running back stable is just as full. Dominique Brown is back from injury, as is 2012 running back’s touchdown leader Senorise Perry. Perry averaged a team leading 5.2 yards per carry before his season was cut short against Syracuse. If that wasn’t enough, the 2010 BCS national championship game MVP, Michael Dyer, joined the team late and is working his way into the rotation. If Dyer returns to his 2010 form, he will be potentially another first round NFL draft pick for the Cards. Add to that some large and athletic fullbacks, both former defensive lineman, and you can see this group will cause some trouble.

Photo Courtesy of UofL Athletics

Photo Courtesy of UofL Athletics

If you’re looking for weakness in this offense, better look fast. Louisville is replacing two key players from last year, Mario Benevides and Alex Kupper. It will take a few games for the group to gel, but make no mistake, they are big and more than capable. The line averages 6’4” and 315 pounds across. Fern Creek High School product, Jamon Brown, is currently tasked with guarding Teddy Bridgewater’s blindside, and is an athletic 6’6” and 350lbs.

New faces on offense: Florida transfer’s tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark; and Trinity standout wide receiver James Quick.

Defensively, Louisville returns 10 of 11 starters and a host of reserves who logged major minutes. Linebacker Preston Brown led the team in tackles (109), but safety Calvin Pryor was nipping at his heels (100). Defensive end Lorenzo Maudlin edged his counterpart, Marcus Smith, in sacks 4.5 to 4, while safety Terrell Floyd led the team in interceptions with three, including the exciting pick-six on the first play from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl. They’re tough too. How tough? Lorenzo Mauldin was hit by a car while driving his moped, evaluated overnight, and was at practice the next day.

While the defense had their moments in 2012, this is an area that Louisville has focused a lot of attention to improving in the offseason. They were vulnerable against the run. A focus on better tackling through improved technique, and a decree from Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford to play faster and more aggressive than last year. Look for Louisville’s defense to take more chances compared to 2012.

Mark Blankenbaker of TheCrunchZone.com, thinks UK has a large hill to climb against Louisville’s defense. “I question how UK will move the ball. Their strength is at running back behind a developing offensive line that lost one of the nation’s best, Larry Warford. With Warford in the mix the Cats allowed 26 sacks and 69 tackles for a loss in twelve games last year. I don’t see that drastically changing in one summer.”

New faces on defense to look for: Defensive lineman De’Asian Richardson, and linebackers Keith Kelsey and Lamar Atkins.

Looking at Kentucky

Kentucky appears to be pointed in the right direction, and is enjoying renewed excitement in their program. The school appears to have made a solid commitment to football, and Mark Stoops has been winning recruits against some top programs. However, while excitement and renewed energy will play a factor for Kentucky in this home game against Louisville, they are still a couple years away. They have talent, just not enough.

“The team has been working exceptionally hard over the summer, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said at the Governor’s Cup press conference. “Depth is a big issue, and we need to continue to recruit and develop the players we have.”

Offensively, they didn’t have a clear cut winner in camp, and went with Jalen Whitlow. Whitlow is seen as an answer to UK’s running back troubles, as he was third in rushing last year from the QB spot. A curious choice for running an “air raid” offense, considering Smith had a better passing year despite only playing four games. Don’t be surprised to see both in this game. After the loss to Western, Kentucky appears ready to give the ball to Smith, so perhaps Whitlow will be a change of pace (or wildcat) option for Kentucky from here forward, barring another injury to Smith. The offensive line loses two starters, including uber talented Larry Warford. They struggled at times last year, and without a noticeable infusion of top talent, it seems the best they can hope for this year is a repeat of 2012’s performance.

TJ Beisner of KY Sports Television and CN2 thinks “UK has to get some points on the board to keep up with Louisville’s offense, or their defensive line will have to be really disruptive to Teddy Bridgewater for UK to have a shot. If they can keep it close, anyone can win.”

Kentucky loses three of their top 5 receivers from 2012, but have added the services of JUCO transfer Javess Blue, true freshman Alex Montgomery, and Franklin County speedster Ryan Timmons, who had an outstanding year only to have been overshadowed by Trinity’s James Quick. Demarco Robinson leads all returning receivers. It’s a solid core of receivers, but will need to play above their averages to top Louisville on this day. With a focus on an air raid offense, this group will easily surpass last year’s yardage, but it will be more of a volume play instead of actually having more talent than the defenses they will face. Jordan Aumiller is a steady TE who rounds out the group.

Photo by MARY E. JONES

Photo by MARY E. JONES

The running backs took a hit when Josh Clemmons was ruled out for the year with an Achilles injury but Raymond Sanders answered the call and will lead the attack, and try to improve on his 645 yard, and 5.9 ypc average in 2012. He will be one to watch as he also catches passes out of the backfield. Kentucky will rely on him early and often in the offense. While third on the most recent depth chart, true freshman Jojo Kemp is a strong Florida HS recruit Kentucky hopes to help spell Raymond Sanders.

“Keep an eye out for JoJo Kemp, I think he will get more play as the season progresses. Coach Stoops really likes him and said ‘he plays like he has a knife in his sock, and he wants to stab someone’, which I think is a compliment,” Beisner said laughing.

Kentucky will enjoy a boost in offense if the air raid offense is effective, and it should be fun to watch.But there is a reason Coach Stoops has been aggressively upgrading (and successfully) in the offseason. This group will need to improve greatly from last year to have a shot against Louisville in this year’s contest, and with a few new faces it’s possible. In one game, anything can happen, especially in a rivalry game.

Defensively, Kentucky looks to be solid. They did lose their top tackler, Collins Ukwu, but return five. Another year of experience and offseason will help their subpar rushing defense from a year ago. They also add true freshman, and Trinity standout DE James Hatcher, a highly coveted recruit, and talented Juco DE, Za’Darius Smith to the mix in what appears to be a solid line up front. The linebackers group consisting of UK’s top 3 tacklers in 2012 all return, although Bud Dupree moves to DE to bolster the line. Avery Williams will be the star of this bunch, and a force in the middle. The defensive backfield had a rough 2012 plagued with injuries. Kentucky returns five freshmen contributors. While this group will improve from last years by virtue of maturity, this is seen as the weak spot on the defense for now. Juco transfer Nate Willis and true frosh Jaleel Hycthe will be called upon to help improve on their 2012.

New faces to watch on defense: Juco DE Za’Darius Smith, Juco DB Nate Willis, freshmen DE James Hatcher.

Gameday Thoughts

What UK Hopes For: Kentucky is hoping for a repeat of 2002. A favored Louisville team with a re-tooled offensive line was upset by Kentucky’s “hefty lefty,” Jerod Lorenzon, with a 22-17 victory in Louisville. The Kentucky defensive line took advantage of Louisville’s retooled offensive line to sack Dave Ragone three times, and rushed him on many more for an ineffective 14-39 passing with 1 TD and 1 INT.

What UL Hopes For: Louisville is hoping for a repeat of 2012. Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry ran all over Kentucky and cruised out to a big lead. Midway through the 3rd quarter, coach strong put the brakes on, pulled Teddy Bridgewater, and they coasted to a 32-14 win and 2nd in a row in the series.

Louisville appears to be strong everywhere they need to be heading into the matchup. Teddy Bridgewater and his stable of talented wide receivers will be heading off against the weak spot in Kentucky’s defense, their defensive backfield. Louisville’s deep stable of running backs should give them an edge in the running game, which has been the deciding factor in 17 consecutive games. However, if Kentucky’s defensive line can exploit Louisville’s retooled offensive line, it might be enough to make this game interesting in Commonwealth Stadium. The next installment of the Governor’s Cup is upon us, and in a rivalry game, anything can happen.

Fast Facts

• Series: Since the series resumed in 1994, after a 70 year break, Louisville leads 11-8. Kentucky leads the overall series 14-11, as they won all six games played in 1912-1924. Louisville failed to score a single point in all six of those games.
• Awards: The Howard Schnellenberger Award started in 2010, awarded to the game’s MVP. The previous winners are RB Derrick Locke (UK, 2010), LB Dexter Heyman (UL, 2011), and QB Teddy Bridgewater (UL, 2012).
• Running Game: The team that had an edge in rushing yardage has won 17 straight games in this series.