Mark Story: The modern UK-U of L football series at 20: Trash talk, lightning bolts, Steve Johnson

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013 

Steve Johnson scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Andre Woodson with less than a minute left to give Kentucky a 40-34 victory over Louisville in 2007.

The traditional gift for a 20th anniversary is china.

On Saturday at high noon in Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky and Louisville will reach 20 years in their modern football rivalry with the Cardinals seeking to add to their 11-8 advantage since 1994. Presumably, Mark Stoops and Charlie Strong would prefer their teams break a little china to celebrate.

While not shopping for china, I am going to celebrate the anniversary with my top 20 things — trash talk, electrical storms, a famous last-second TD bomb — that have made the modern Kentucky-Louisville football series a quirky gem.

20. Petrino gives UK 'the knee.' In 2003, coaching Louisville against UK for the first time, Bobby Petrino's Cardinals tacked on a touchdown with six seconds left in a 40-24 victory. Some Cats fans ripped the new Cards coach for running up the score. The next season, U of L was leading 28-0 and threatening for more in the final seconds. Rather than scoring late again, Petrino had the Cards take a knee. "I just thought I'd give Kentucky what it wanted," Petrino jibed.

19. Mumme's first pass. Plucked out of obscurity at NCAA Division II Valdosta State before the 1997 season to revitalize Kentucky football with his pass-happy attack, Hal Mumme achieved instant credibility against Louisville in his very first game when Tim Couch threw three TD passes in the first quarter to spark a 38-24 UK victory.

18. Ruining the dedication(s). "Stadium games" have been death for the home team in the modern Governor's Cup. In 1998, UK spoiled the inaugural game in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with a 68-34 win. The very next year, with Kentucky opening an expanded Commonwealth Stadium, Louisville's Chris Redman ruined the party, 56-28. In 2010, Louisville debuted an expanded Papa John's — so, of course, Derrick Locke, Randall Cobb and UK foiled the festivities, 23-16.

17. "Red-headed step-children." Before the 1999 game, then-Louisville coach John L. Smith declared that UK had historically treated the Cardinals as if they were "red-headed step-children." Making redheads everywhere stand a little taller, U of L then trounced UK 56-28.

16. Teddy launches his legend. In 2011, Louisville came to Lexington riding a four-game losing streak against Kentucky. U of L saw its starting quarterback, Will Stein, knocked out by injury early in the game. In a foreshadowing of what was to come, true freshman Teddy Bridgewater came off the bench and threw two touchdown passes to lead U of L to a 24-17 upset.

15. Quarterback glory. Stellar quarterback matchups have defined the modern history of the Governor's Cup. In head-to-head meetings as starters, UK's Tim Couch went 2-0 against Chris Redman; Jared Lorenzen was 1-2 against Dave Ragone; and Andre Woodson went 1-2 against Brian Brohm.

14. A surprising QB stat. Only one quarterback has gone 3-0 as a starter in the modern UK-U of L series. The much-maligned Mike Hartline started in Wildcats victories in 2008, '09 and '10.

13. The defining statistic. For all the star quarterbacks who have played in UK-U of L games, one statistic has consistently had a direct correlation to who claims the Governor's Cup. For the last 17 years, the team that has run for the most yards has won the UK- U of L game.

12. Bringing the lumber on Ragone. In 2002, Louisville began the season ranked No. 17 in the country. Its senior quarterback, Dave Ragone, was trying to run his record to 3-0 as a starter against UK. Yet led by a veteran defensive line featuring future NFL first-round pick Dewayne Robertson, Kentucky sacked Ragone three times, harried him into a 14-for-39 passing performance and won 22-17.

11. 'Key' to victory. In the very first Cats-Cards game after the 1994 renewal, UK linebacker Donte Key set up Kentucky's winning touchdown with a fumble recovery, then sealed the Wildcats' 20-14 victory in Game One with an interception.

10. Home-field disadvantage. For whatever reason, there has been scant benefit to playing at home in the Governor's Cup. Louisville is 7-4 in Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky is 4-4 in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

9. Hometown anti-hero. In 2009, Louisville's starting quarterback against Kentucky was from Lexington. Justin Burke. The former Lexington Catholic star threw two fourth-quarter TDs to put 131/2-point underdog U of L in the lead — but Randall Cobb saved the Cats with a leaping catch in the end zone for a 31-27 win.

8. First is worst? Starting in 2007, then-UK coach Rich Brooks insisted on no longer playing Louisville as the season opener when Kentucky had the choice in home games (at U of L, the game has still been the opener). When the game is played has shown not to benefit one team over the other. Since 2007, Kentucky is 2-1 vs. Louisville in openers and 2-1 vs U of L when it's not the opener.

7. Land grab. In 2012, Louisville and star QB Teddy Bridgewater uncorked first-half touchdown drives of 99, 85 and 93 yards and rolled to a 32-14 victory over Kentucky.

6. A rivalry of 'runs.' The Governor's Cup has not been one of those rivalries that rocks back and forth between teams from year-to-year. From 1999-2006, Louisville won seven of eight against UK. From 2007-10, Kentucky won four straight. Now, U of L is on a two-game winning streak — and will be favored to make it three Saturday.

5. 'A bunch of girls.' After watching Tim Couch and Kentucky strafe Louisville for 68 points in his first game as Louisville head coach in 1998, John L. Smith proclaimed the Cardinals had played "like a bunch of girls." The following week, in an apology letter, Smith said he did not intend "to offend anyone, especially the female athlete."

4. The 'Lightning Game.' In 2000, Kentucky was leading 19-14 in the third quarter at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium when an electrical storm stopped play for an hour and 12 minutes. Once the lightning stopped, crazy stuff started happening. Louisville surged ahead, Kentucky fought back to tie. UK had a chip-shot field goal on the game's final play to win — but it was blocked. U of L's Tony Stallings then won things with a 25-yard TD run in overtime.

3. Mumme's post-lightning rant. That zany 2000 game was Hal Mumme's second straight loss to U of L. Afterward, the Kentucky coach had a tirade. "It's not that important a game for us," he said of Louisville. "The important games are conference games. I know everyone likes to make it seem like a big deal, but we don't really benefit from playing a team that lives to beat us. It's the first game. We'll be over it by Monday."

2. 'Over-marketed and under-performing.' In the run-up to the 2006 game, then-UK President Lee Todd referred to the U of L football program as "over-marketed and under-performing." In response, Bobby Petrino's Cardinals put a 59-28 smack down on UK. The over-marketed Cardinals under-performed their way to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory that season.

1. Stevie gets loose. The most-hyped game in the Governor's Cup rivalry so far came in 2007. Louisville was ranked No. 9 and featured star senior quarterback Brian Brohm. UK had won the Music City Bowl the prior year and featured star senior QB Andre Woodson. Down most of the game, U of L rallied to lead 34-33 — until Kentucky's Woodson found wideout Steve Johnson open along the left sideline for a 57-yard, game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds left.

May the next 20 years of the Governor's Cup rivalry bring many more such moments.


Saturday

Louisville at Kentucky

When: Noon

Records: Louisville 2-0; Kentucky 1-1

TV: ESPN

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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