A pair of unimpressive starts for Kentucky
and Louisville hasn't tampered the importance of when the two teams
play each other on Saturday.
Head coach Joker Phillips said he's thankful to have two wins,
no matter how his team got them. Louisville hasn't been as
fortunate; the Cardinals opened with a 21-9 win over FCS opponent
Murray State before losing Friday at home to Florida International,
No matter how poorly either team has played to this point in the
season, Phillips said he doesn't have to remind players to step up
their intensity during the week heading into any rivalry game,
especially one as heated as this week's.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong says the rivalry gets people in
the state talking.
"You're talking about two in-state programs less than a hundred
miles apart from one another," he said. "More than anything for
the fans, it's bragging rights. It's a big-time game and it's a
Phillips also views the game as an important early season
barometer for where each team stands. The last time a team won this
game and didn't end the season with a bowl appearance was 2002,
when UK won the game and finished the season 7-5 but was not bowl
eligible because of NCAA sanctions.
In its two wins, Kentucky has struggled offensively. The
Wildcats won their opener on Sept. 1 against Western Kentucky,
14-3, despite gaining only 190 yards of total offense and throwing
three interceptions. They came from behind to beat Central Michigan
on Saturday, 27-13, after trailing by a touchdown at halftime.
Kentucky currently ranks 110th in the country out of 122 FBS
teams in total offense, averaging 267 yards per game. The offense
has stalled in large part because quarterback Morgan Newton has
been ineffective. As a result, the team ranks 115th in the country
in passing offense with 105.5 yards per game.
Phillips said Monday that getting the offense going will be a
challenge for his team because of Louisville's defense, which
stacks its players inside the tackle box, takes away running lanes
and dares opponents to pass.
"The thing we are doing, what we did good last week, is running
the ball," Phillips said. "(We) ran for 230 yards. We expect the
box to be stacked even more this week. We have to complete some
passes to get them into some coverages."
Strong says a win may be difficult for the Cardinals.
"I don't know if we can beat Kentucky right now," he said.
"Kentucky returns 10 starters on defense. The whole offensive line
is back, which is the nucleus of their football team right now.
They've beaten us four straight years."
The Cats have won the Governor's Cup game each of the last four
years; before that, Louisville won each game from 2003-06.
No player on the Wildcats' roster has lost to Louisville.
"We don't want to be that team that lost to Louisville,"
linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "We're not going to let that
Senior guard Stuart Hines said this year's team can't "count on
history" to win the game Saturday. The only way the Wildcats will
benefit from playing Louisville this week, he said, is if his
teammates use the rivalry game as motivation to practice harder
throughout the week.
Phillips said he won't say much to his team about the rivalry.
They already know the stories and expectations that come with the
game each year, and the teammates talk about it to themselves.
Instead, Phillips will talk about the game as a chance to impress
since neither team has done so in 2011.
"Who knows how well we would have done against Murray State and
FIU?" Phillips said. "Who knows how well they would have done
against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan? The way to judge
that is play each other. We do play each other this week so we'll
be able to know after this game."