U of L-UK prediction

09/13/2011 10:56 AM

I know it’s only Tuesday, but why wait? I think I’ve seen all that I need to see out of both UK and U of L to go ahead and throw my prediction for Saturday’s Governor’s Cup out there. Before I delve into the specifics, let me give you my history as far as the series goes:

1997-picked U of L (UK won 38-24).
1998-picked UK (UK won 68-34).
1999-picked UK (U of L won 56-28).
2000-picked UK (U of L won 40-34)
2001-picked U of L (U of L won 36-10).
2002-picked U of L (UK won 22-17).
2003-picked UK (U of L won 40-24).
2004-picked U of L (U of L won 28-0).
2005-picked U of L (U of L won 31-24).
2006-picked U of L (U of L won 56-28).
2007-picked U of L (UK won 40-34).
2008-picked UK (UK won 27-2).
2009-picked UK (UK won 31-27).
2010-picked UK (UK won 23-16).

Overall, that’s 9-5. Not too shabby, but nothing that makes me want to run to Vegas this weekend, either. This year is one of the tougher ones to predict. Some years it’s clear that one team is heads and shoulders above the other (UK in 1998 when it was John L. Smith’s first year; U of L during the Petrino years; UK during the Kragthorpe era). Even last year wasn’t all that tough. Charlie Strong was in year one post-Kragthorpe, while Joker Phillips had a team coming off a bowl bid with Randall Cobb.

So far this season, neither team has shown enough to say they’re infinitely better than the other, but we’ve already had some gamesmanship before the game. U of L coach Charlie Strong made a clever tactical ploy when he said on two different occasions that Kentucky was the better team. He went on to add that UK had recruited better and that he didn’t know if the Cards could even win the game.
That maneuver serves two purposes: It lights a fire into his squad, which has looked lethargic in the first two games. And it puts even more pressure on UK Coach Joker Phillips, who hasn’t built up as much goodwill with his fan base as Strong has. Strong’s take means that if U of L wins, it appears like a monumental hurdle was cleared. If they lose, hey, so what? We weren’t supposed to win the game anyway.
The only problem with Strong’s soliloquy: I don’t know if anybody bought it. He made it too obvious and laid it on too thick. And no matter what he says, the gap between the two programs isn’t that wide. UK has won four in a row, sure. But look at the two programs now. The talent levels are similar, and neither team looks like world-beaters after two games. I was surprised that UK was installed as a seven-point favorite.

Apparently Phillips is not fooled by Strong’s rhetoric. Cats’ Pause reporter Matt May tweeted out following UK’s Tuesday practice that Phillips responded to Strong’s comments by saying, ‘Thats Lou Holtz stuff. I’m not playing his game. We’re both (Holtz) disciples.’

Now on to the actual game.

I clearly like Louisville’s playmakers better than Kentucky’s. Will Stein has been fine at QB. And the Cards have a deep and talented stable of receivers. Tight end Josh Chichester and his 6-foot-9 frame can wreak havoc over the middle. At his Monday press conference, Strong backtracked after calling freshman DeVante Parker his best receiver. But I’m not so sure Strong doesn’t believe that, and it might very well be true. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Ballard has shown an uncanny ability to make acrobatic catches, reminiscent of Keenan Burton during his UK heyday. U of L has two other promising freshman receivers in Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris to go along with proven vets Josh Bellamy and Andrell Smith. This could pose problems to a Wildcat cornerback crew that has shown a propensity to allow guys to get open downfield. Western Kentucky didn’t have the quarterback to take advantage of it. Central Michigan didn’t have the explosive receivers. U of L has both.

The question is though, is Will Stein going to have enough time to take advantage of it? He was running for his life for much of the night in the loss to FIU, and while the UK corners have been shaky, the Cats’ front seven has looked formidable through two games. Collins Ukwu looks primed for a big year at end. Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph can plug the middle. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy can fly in and make plays, and Trevathan can also clean up any messes made.

As for the UK passing game, the one thing Morgan Newton has shown he can do is throw the deep ball, and he’ll likely test U of L’s young corners early and often. But Newton has also been locking in on receiver La’Rod King almost to a fault. Expect U of L to zone in on King and force Newton to look for other options.

Ultimately, this game almost always comes down to who can run the ball, and that’s why I’m picking Kentucky to win the game. U of L has the edge at the skill positions. Both defenses have looked respectable. Special teams are a wash, with maybe a slight edge to Kentucky. But I just trust Kentucky’s offensive line more than I do Louisville’s. Yes, they’re banged up, with center Matt Smith and right tackle Billy Joe Murphy questionable for the game. And yes they were whipped up front by Western. But when push comes to shove, I believe the Cats will do a better job of protecting its QB and creating holes for its backs than the Cards. I didn’t like what I saw from the U of L O-line against FIU, while UK’s line showed signs of life in the second half against Central Michigan. The Cards really miss starting center Mario Benavides, who will miss his third straight game with an ankle injury.

Here’s how I see the game shaking out: U of L will come out jacked up and jump on the Cats early with a big pass play. Then I see the game settling in, with both defenses imposing their will. I can see both kickers playing key roles, with U of L’s Chris Philpott and UK’s Craig McIntosh kicking a handful of field goals apiece. Eventually I see the Wildcat pressure getting to Stein and the Cats taking control in the second half. The Cards will close to within four points late in the fourth quarter, but Kentucky will rely on its offensive line and the running of Josh Clemons, Raymond Sanders and Newton to kill the clock and pull out a 23-19 win.
There you have it. I want to hear your predictions in the comments section below, and I’ll read the best one on the air for my Friday CN|2 Sports Update.


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