Bowl-bound Louisville, Kentucky play for Bluegrass supremacy

GARY B. GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville coach Scott Satterfield learned quickly that the rivalry with Kentucky isn’t limited to basketball.

Especially since both the Cardinals (7-4) and Wildcats (6-5) enter Saturday’s football showdown for the Governor’s Cup bowl-bound and seeking a signature victory.

“I’m still learning how it goes,” Satterfield said, recalling the sentiment he felt watching last year’s Bluegrass basketball showdown. “You get one opportunity and one shot for bragging rights throughout the year. I think that’s probably the biggest thing because we’re both in this state and every time you go out in town, you’re potentially going to be around the other fan base.

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“You always want bragging rights and I think it makes for a good offseason for whoever can win this game.”

Louisville aims to continue its impressive turnaround under Satterfield, who took over the program not long after a 2-10 season ended in a 56-10 shellacking by Kentucky. Any thoughts about revenge have been overshadowed by the Cardinals’ incentive to keep their high-powered offense rolling toward improved bowl position.

Evening the series at 16 will take care of itself if the Cardinals succeed.

“We’ve got to treat it like a regular game,” left tackle Mekhi Becton said. “Anytime you go away you’re going to be the underdog, so you’ve got to treat it like a regular week.”

In a similar groove after a rollercoaster season of challenges, Kentucky also looks to boost its postseason prospects.

Injuries that left the Wildcats thin at quarterback forced a switch to junior receiver/returner Lynn Bowden, who has rushed for 852 of his yards at QB and keyed a 4-2 rebound after a three-game slide. He made six catches for 86 yards in last year’s road win, Kentucky's second in three years, and now hopes help the Wildcats end Louisville’s four-game winning streak in Lexington.

But the Wildcats expect a stiff challenge from the Cardinals.

“Coming into our territory, it’s definitely not a friendly game,” said guard Logan Stenberg, one of 11 Kentucky seniors playing their home finales. “It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be gritty, it’s going to be like every other year. Nothing’s changed.”

Some other things to know about Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky Governor’s Cup matchup:

TRIPLE THREATS

Cardinals sophomore quarterback Micale Cunningham (2,082 yards from scrimmage, 25 touchdowns) is coming off a career-best five passing TDs with a running score against Syracuse.

Meanwhile, running back Javian Hawkins and receiver Tutu Atwell, both 5-foot-9, have each surpassed 1,000 yards to give Louisville its first such pair since Frank Moreau and Arnold Jackson totaled 1,289 and 1,209 respectively in 1989. Hawkins’ career-high 233-yard rushing performance against the Orange gave him a freshman-record 1,278, and he’s just 324 away from breaking Lamar Jackson’s single season mark set two years ago.

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH

Louisville ranks 26th nationally in scoring at 34.5 points per game and 28th in yardage (453.4). It faces a Kentucky defense that has held six consecutive opponents to 305 yards or fewer and ranks 18th in scoring defense at 18.9 points allowed per contest. “You have to play good team defense and be where you’re supposed to be,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “You have to tackle in the open field because they have some playmakers, be in good position and make good, clean tackles.”

FIELD POSITION

Kentucky junior Max Duffy remains the nation’s top punter with a 45.24-yard net average and overall average of 48.9. Just nine kicks have been returned against the Australian, who has also placed 51% inside the 20. He also made his third career tackle last week, an open-field stop of UT Martin’s Terry Williams that denied his attempt at a third return for a TD this season.

SIDELINED

Louisville’s defense will be without starting strong safety Russ Yeast, who sustained a second-half leg injury against Syracuse. HIs 61 tackles rank fifth on the team.

THE SPOILS

If it seems like the winners’ biggest players end up hoisting the Governor’s Cup, it’s because the $23,000 trophy is a heavy lift at 110 pounds and 33 inches high. It’s also delicate, comprised of black marble, optic-grade crystal and 23-karat gold-plated brass and pewter.

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