LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky wants to prove last year’s upset of Louisville and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson wasn’t a fluke.
The visiting Cardinals and their award-winning quarterback remember the pain of losing that game and Bluegrass bragging rights. They have a little extra motivation to reclaim a rivalry they’ve recently dominated.
The in-state rivals each bring 7-4 records into the Governor’s Cup showdown Saturday, adding more drama to a series that is tied at 14.
Asked about the anticipated intensity level, Kentucky senior receiver Garrett Johnson said, ”It’ll be on 10, I can assure you of that.”
Having matched last year’s win total – Kentucky achieved that with last year’s upset of the Cardinals – the next step is reaching eight victories for the first since 1984. The Wildcats also need to rebound from two losses in three games.
That includes last week’s 42-13 Southeastern Conference loss at No. 7 Georgia , a game Kentucky was in early before the Bulldogs’ ground game took charge. The Wildcats yielded 381 yards rushing and 504 overall, creating urgency to improve against Jackson and the nation’s No. 3 offense.
”When you have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (in Lamar Jackson) back there behind center, it puts a lot of pressure on you,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
Louisville is playing some of its best football this season since a midyear slump killed hopes of contending in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A bye appears to have recharged the Cardinals and corrected issues on both sides of the ball, resulting in consecutive ACC blowouts of Virginia and Syracuse by a combined margin of 94-31.
Jackson continues piling up Heisman-worth statistics and reminders of how dangerous he is passing and running the ball. He accounted for four touchdowns and 381 yards in last week’s soggy 56-10 rout of Syracuse and became Louisville’s career leader in total yardage with 12,474.
Louisville’s objectives against Kentucky are using all of his talents and protecting the ball to overcome last year’s stunning 41-38 home loss to the Wildcats.
The then-No. 11 Cardinals were driving toward a possible game-winning field goal when Jackson fumbled at Kentucky’s 10. The Wildcats drove into position for Austin MacGinnis’ 47-yard winning kick with 12 seconds remaining for the upset that ended a five-game series losing streak.
Louisville’s loss didn’t stop Jackson from winning the Heisman and a slew of other awards. The only hardware that matters to both schools this weekend is an oversized trophy (see below) signifying Commonwealth supremacy.
”If there’s a game on our schedule, that’s something to play for,” Louisville senior running back Reggie Bonnafon said, ”and we have one this upcoming week.”
Here are some other things to watch as Louisville battles Kentucky for the Governor’s Cup:
RESILIENT JOHNSON: Kentucky senior quarterback Stephen Johnson snatched some of the spotlight from Jackson last year behind big plays made with his arm and feet. He needs just 100 yards passing to surpass last year’s total of 2,037 with 10 TDs, and has rushed for 352 with three scores.
DEFENSIVE RESURGENCE: Since yielding an average of 567 yards in losses to North Carolina State, Boston College and Wake Forest, Louisville has clamped down. It held Syracuse to 335 last week and Virginia to just 277 the game before. Even better for the Cardinals, they intercepted four passes last week, including the first pickoff this season by all-ACC cornerback Jaire Alexander since returning from injuries.
FAREWELL: Stephen and Garrett Johnson are among 25 Kentucky seniors playing their home finales. The list includes LB Courtney Love (72 tackles) and MacGinnis, the school’s career scoring leader with 349 points.
SUPPORTING CAST: Louisville might have finally developed the backfield rotation needed to keep Jackson from doing it all himself. Malik Williams rushed for a career-high 180 yards and two TDs against Syracuse, while Bonnafon and Dae Williams combined for 72 as Louisville had a season-high 411 on the ground. ”It’s great to have everyone back,” Malik Williams said. ”I’m grateful to be healthy again, and to get Dae back, it’s helped our rushing attack.”
GRAND PRIZE: Multiple players might be needed to lift the Governor’s Cup. The trophy stands 33 inches tall, weighs 110 pounds and cost $23,000. Created in 1994 with the series’ resumption, the columns are black marble with optic-grade crystal glass components.
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