Kentucky dumps archrival as defense denies Louisville trip to end zone

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rich Brooks knows Kentucky's young and inexperienced offense isn't going to scare anybody.

The way the Wildcats' defense played against Louisville, it might not have to.

Kentucky returned two Louisville fumbles for touchdowns and set up another score with an interception in the Wildcats' 27-2 victory Sunday in the Governor's Cup.

"We thought we had a good defense and we do," Brooks said. "Our defense took it upon themselves to score points. Our defense kept making play after play after play."

Kentucky forced five turnovers and stuffed Louisville's retooled offense, playing with the kind of tenacity Brooks said the Wildcats would need early in the season while the offense found its footing.

Kentucky held Louisville, which averaged 416.5 yards per game a year ago, to just 205 yards and the Cardinals failed to score a touchdown for the first time since a shutout loss to Florida State in 2000.

"We were able to come out and execute everything we wanted to," Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson said. "I was expecting us to have a great performance and we did. I just wasn't expecting all of those turnovers."

Neither were the Cardinals.

Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe was hoping for a fresh start after a disappointing debut last season. Instead, the Cardinals appear to have plenty of work ahead if they want to climb back toward the top of the Big East.

Sunday, the Wildcats emphatically proved the Cardinals weren't even the best team in the state.

"You've got to take good care of the football," Kragthorpe said. "We just didn't do a good enough job on offense. Our defense gave us opportunities but we didn't take advantage."

While Louisville's defense showed significant improvement under new coordinator Ron English -- holding the Wildcats to 210 yards -- the offense looked overwhelmed at times.

Hunter Cantwell, who spent the last three seasons as an understudy to former Louisville star Brian Brohm, turned it over four times in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals tried to rally. His first interception led to Tony Dixon's 7-yard touchdown run that put the Wildcats up 20-2, and Kentucky's Myron Pryor later pounced on Cantwell's fumble and rumbled 72 yards for a score to send the third-largest crowd in Cardinal Stadium history streaking to the exit.

Cantwell finished 20-of-43 for 152 yards and three interceptions and hardly looked like the polished passer that filled in so capably for Brohm during Louisville's breakout season in 2006. He hurried passes and forced others, perhaps trying too hard to fill in the gaps for a unit that has new starters at every skill position.

"It seemed like anything that could go wrong did go wrong," Cantwell said. "We had stops or stupid mistakes, penalties. I was very disappointed in myself and the way the offense moved the ball."

Louisville's offensive output was its lowest since it gained just 176 yards in a loss to Cincinnati in 2002 and the Cardinals took just one snap inside the Kentucky 20.

The Wildcats were hardly any better on offense, but they didn't need to be.

Hartline, who won the starting quarterback job almost by default after Curtis Pulley was dismissed on Aug. 5 for a violation of team rules, played efficiently if not spectacularly, completing 16 of 31 passes and 147 yards. While he didn't throw for a touchdown, he avoided mistakes. Rather than force the issue, he mostly settled for underneath passes and smartly threw the ball away when nothing developed.

"I was really relieved to win and get this one out of the way," Hartline said. "I didn't try to put too much pressure on myself. I just wanted to manage the game."

Hartline's only major mistake came early in the fourth quarter when he was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

The Wildcats forced a punt on the ensuing possession, but Louisville appeared to get a break when the punt glanced off Kentucky's Dicky Lyons and the Cardinals recovered. Officials, however ruled Louisville's Bilal Powell interfered with Lyons even though replays showed Powell backing away from Lyons when the ball landed.

Kragthorpe argued vehemently, but was told by officials that the play was unreviewable.

Kentucky turned the reprieve into Lones Seiber's field goal, and the Cardinals continued a self-destruction that began in the first half when they had a 38-yard field goal blocked. They later gift-wrapped a Kentucky touchdown when Powell fumbled while trying to switch hands as he was tackled. The ball bounced right into the arms of Kentucky's Ashton Cobb, who ran in 28 yards for a score to give the Wildcats a 10-0 lead they never came close to squandering.