John Clay: Stoops & Co. facing Louisville contest head-on

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 8, 2013 

Saturday will be Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops' first taste of the intrastate Cats-Cards rivalry.

DAVID STEPHENSON

Mark Stoops quote No. 1 from Saturday:

"Big rivalry."

Mark Stoops quote No. 2 from Saturday:

"We're looking forward to it."

It's on like Donkey Kong. Kentucky vs. Louisville. Saturday at high noon. Commonwealth Stadium.

It's Mark Stoops' first taste of the Red-Blue rivalry, and though his host Cats are sure to be a decided underdog to the highly ranked Cardinals, you can almost hear the new UK head coach humming Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down.

And you can almost hear Louisville thinking, "Yeah, whatever."

Let's set the stage.

Louisville is a top-10 team. The Cardinals boast a serious Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Louisville is also playing a marshmallow schedule, which means Charlie Strong's main focus is keeping his Cardinals focused as they check their weekly to-beat list.

Kentucky is a top-100 team. Exactly where the Cats fit in that top 100, we're not quite sure.

Stoops suffered an unlucky head coaching debut by playing Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky the week before the Hilltoppers became a very giving team, turning the football over five times in six plays during a 52-20 loss at Tennessee.

Where was that generosity when Kentucky needed it?

Saturday, Stoops' home opener was much more joyous. And loud. That Air Raid siren kept going off, especially in the first quarter as UK scored 24 points on the way to a 41-7 win over Miami. Unfortunately, that's Miami (Ohio) — not Miami (Florida) — that was busy turning the University of Florida over five times in a 21-16 win on Saturday.

Did we mention that of late UK-U of L has tended to be a cyclical rivalry? Louisville won four consecutive meetings from 2003 through 2006. Then Kentucky won four consecutive meetings from 2007 through 2010. Louisville has now won the last two, which history would indicate would mean two down, two to go.

Can Kentucky reverse the trend? Anything's possible of course, like, say, Eminem doing a halftime interview on national television with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit.

"I'm really uncomfortable right now," Eminem said at one point, but then who hasn't said that around Brent?

Meanwhile, back to the action. Kentucky showed some encouraging signs Saturday on both sides of the football.

New skill-position players Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, Ryan Timmons and Jojo Kemp all celebrated big games. The revolving-door strategy at quarterback with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow worked well. The defense did not allow a touchdown.

Afterward, the team, led by senior linebacker Avery Williamson, presented Stoops with the game ball for his first win as a head coach.

Again, we must point out that the opponent was the Miami RedHawks, not the Miami Heat.

And Louisville isn't just Touchdown Teddy Bridgewater, even if the junior quarterback is completing — gasp — 76.7 percent of his passes, has thrown for nine touchdowns with just one interception, and is third nationally in pass efficiency.

Strong has a strong stable of running backs, complemented by the addition of Michael Dyer, who is averaging 6.4 yards a carry. So far, wide receivers DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland are each scoring six points every third catch. That's pretty good math.

Strong, of course, made his name as the defensive coordinator at Florida before becoming a head coach when Louisville fired Steve Kragthorpe, who had lost three straight to UK.

Stoops, of course, made his name as the defensive coordinator at Florida State before becoming a head coach when Kentucky fired Joker Phillips, who had lost two straight to U of L.

Their paths didn't really cross in the Sunshine State. Strong left Gainesville in 2010, the same year that Stoops arrived at Tallahassee.

Their paths cross this Saturday.

We're all looking forward to it.


Saturday

Louisville at Kentucky

When: Noon

Records: Louisville 2-0; Kentucky 1-1

TV: ESPN

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

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