Kentucky versus Louisville is better known as a basketball rivalry. The two schools have only met 26 times on the football field, far less than any of the other ACC-SEC rivalry games on tap for this weekend, but the Governor’s Cup dates all the way back to 1912. Bragging rights will still be on the line when the Cardinals and Wildcats play Saturday.
This year’s game is unique, too. It’s the first time in history the two schools will finish the regular season against each other. Kentucky holds a 14-12 edge in the all-time series.
ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and SEC reporter Greg Ostendorf break down the ACC-SEC showdown below:
Key to victory for Kentucky: Quarterback Patrick Towles threw for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in six of Kentucky’s first eight games. The Wildcats were 5-3 during that stretch. In his last three games -- all losses -- Towles has failed to surpass 200 yards, and he’s thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). Now, with Kentucky’s bowl hopes on the line, it’s up to Towles and this offense to play better than they have in recent weeks. But just because Louisville isn’t in the SEC doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great defense. The Cardinals have forced 26 turnovers and are among the nation’s leaders in Total QBR allowed.
Key to victory for Louisville: Establish the run. Louisville is most effective offensively when its ground game and pass game are working in concert. In two of their three losses this season, the Cards failed to gain 100 yards rushing. Just this past weekend in a big win over Notre Dame, Louisville had 229 yards on the ground and another stellar performance from Brandon Radcliff. Whether he or Michael Dyer is carrying the ball for Louisville, it will need another big effort to help out quarterback Reggie Bonnafon and the play-action passing that is so integral to getting DeVante Parker and company free.
X-factor for Kentucky: As important as Towles is to the offense, Alvin "Bud" Dupree is maybe more important to the defense. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound defensive end is one of the top pass rushers in the SEC, and he’s remained consistent despite Kentucky’s recent struggles. In the team’s latest loss to Tennessee, Dupree finished with 14 tackles and a sack. He leads the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks on the season. The senior, who will likely be playing on Sundays next year, doesn’t want this to be his final game with the Wildcats. He still wants to play in a bowl game, something he’s never done at Kentucky.
X-factor for Louisville: As noted above, Louisville has done a terrific job all season of forcing turnovers. Gerod Holliman is a big reason why, with 13 interceptions -- one shy of tying the NCAA single-season mark. But he is not the only one forcing turnovers. Louisville has 19 total interceptions on the season. So with an aggressive, opportunistic group in the defensive backfield, you can bet Louisville will do whatever it can to make sure Towles continues his recent slump. Holliman may have something to say about that.
Ostendorf’s favorite moment from the rivalry: The Governor’s Cup is no Iron Bowl. It doesn’t have a history of legendary finishes. But the 2007 game and the game-winning touchdown pass from Andre Woodson to Steve Johnson was about as good as it gets in this rivalry, especially for Kentucky fans. With less than a minute left, Johnson somehow got behind the defense along his sideline and Woodson threw a perfect pass, hitting him in stride for a 57-yard touchdown. Commonwealth Stadium erupted. Louisville was ranked No. 9 at the time, and it was the first time Kentucky had beaten its in-state rival in five years.
Adelson’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I started covering Louisville in the Big East in 2011, so my history with the rivalry is not as extensive as hard-core Cards fans. But I will never forget watching Teddy Bridgewater enter the Kentucky game as a true freshman that season, and truly realizing a star would be born. He was calm under pressure, made good decisions and was a big reason why the Cards broke a four-game losing streak in the series. Bridgewater ended up 10-of-18 for 106 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he started every other game the rest of his Louisville career.