Kentucky-Louisville notes: Governor's Cup rivalry big even for out-of-state Cats

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 13, 2013 

When new players arrive at Kentucky, their veteran teammates teach an entry-level class of sorts.

There's no syllabus, no final.

"Kind of like the basics of Kentucky football," senior running back Jonathan George explained this week. "And beating Louisville is one of those main goals.

"Older guys such as myself need to kind of put a little extra emphasis on this game because it is a big game. It's the Governor's Cup, it's basically the title for the state, so we need to come out and be focused."

When George got to campus, beating Louisville was an expectation. The Cats had won four in a row before falling to the Cardinals the past two times.

It's a trend UK's players would like to reverse.

"We've gotta get it back," junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said of the trophy that resided in Louisville for the past two seasons. "We've got to bring the Governor's Cup back to Lexington. That's another thing the teammates, my teammates have already been talking about: just bring the Governor's Cup back to Lexington and win it for the team, ourselves and the fans, too."

Even for guys like Dupree and George, who aren't even from Kentucky, the noon kickoff against No. 7 Louisville at Commonwealth Stadium has a little extra juice.

"It's a bitter rival and the word 'love' won't be thrown around too loosely when you put both teams together in the same sentence," George said.

Dupree agreed: "It's just a big game for the whole program. I know all the fans hate Louisville, so we just got to go out there and win for them."

But both players and their coaches and coordinators don't want to see a repeat of the Cats' first game of the season, a loss to Western Kentucky.

Emotions ran high; nerves were a problem.

Those things always are present in a rivalry game.

"There's always a fear of some of that, but we'll see," UK Coach Mark Stoops said. "We'll be looking for that and coaching for that all week to just, again, just prepare. All I ask them to do is prepare every day the best they can."

The coach said it's clear even to newbies like himself that this is a big, important game.

"It's very important to myself, this team, our program, the fans, and everybody," he said. "It's very important. But we'll be in a lot of big games here, we hope."

Third-down improvement

Kentucky was worst in the nation last season at third-down defense, allowing opposing offenses to convert 52.3 percent of the time. And while the Cats are just two games into this season, they've made quite the turnaround, allowing opponents to succeed on that down 11.5 percent of the time, second-best in the nation.

"We've played well on third down," UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Fortunately for us, that's an area where we have been able to execute. Now if we can execute all the other downs, we'll be in good shape."

The Cardinals' offense will be a true test.

It is fifth in the nation in third-down conversions, getting the first down more than 68 percent of the time (20 of its 29 tries).

Bourbon and bats

Sure, it's a battle for the Governor's Cup, but the mayors of Lexington and Louisville have gotten in on the game as well.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced a friendly wager on Saturday's game with his Louisville counterpart Greg Fischer.

If Kentucky wins, Fischer has agreed to send a personalized Louisville Slugger bat and if the Cardinals win, Gray will send Fischer a bottle of Town Branch Bourbon.

"There's a lot of excitement about Coach Stoops and his team," Gray said in a news release from his office. "The Big Blue Nation is looking forward to taking back the Governor's Cup!"

We meet again ...

Kentucky cornerback Nate Willis could find himself going up against some familiar faces Saturday when the junior-college transfer originally from Pahokee, Fla., takes on Louisville's Gerald Christian and Robert Clark.

Florida transfers Clark, a 5-foot-9 junior wide receiver, and Christian, a 6-foot-3 junior tight end, are from the same county as Willis.

"I'm looking forward to playing against them," Willis said. "I'm looking forward to the game, to playing those guys."

Willis said he and Clark "grew up together" and talk regularly. The receiver has eight catches for 67 yards and a 43-yard touchdown in the opener against Ohio University.

Christian has seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky.

Cats, Cards coach contracts

Charlie Strong's new, eight-year contract extension with Louisville, which guarantees him $3.7 million annually, includes several lucrative performance incentives worth a little more than $583,000 should he hit some major milestones this season.

One loss to Kentucky could hurt his chances at several of those big-ticket incentives.

For instance, if Louisville remains a Top 25 team at the end of the season, he gets $25,000. If it maintains its current top-10 ranking, he gets $50,000.

If the Cardinals participate in the BCS national championship game, Strong will get $150,000, with the amount increasing to $200,000 should Louisville win the title.

Participation in any BCS bowl nets Strong an additional $100,000.

He receives a bonus of $50,000 for being named American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and the same for being tabbed National Coach of the Year.

Strong's new deal, which he agreed to the day before Louisville upset Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl, places him seventh among Division I coaches. His contract expires in 2020.

Just for comparison's sake, Mark Stoops' deal with UK will pay him roughly $2 million this season, plus his own sets of incentive clauses.

As UK continues its rebuilding efforts, per his contract, the head coach will receive $100,000 for each Southeastern Conference victory starting with the second SEC win of each season. He also would get an additional $100,000 for more than five SEC victories in a season.

For a national title win or a Southeastern Conference championship, Stoops receives a $200,000 bonus. He also would receive an added $200,000 for a BCS bowl victory.

A non-BCS bowl game with receipts of more than $2 million nets Stoops $125,000.

For league Coach of the Year, Stoops would earn $50,000 and for national Coach of the Year, $75,000.

■ Both coaches' contracts contain other perks. Stoops receives 16 football season tickets and can request use of a 14-seat box at Commonwealth Stadium. He also gets four men's home basketball tickets. Strong receives 18 football tickets and eight tickets to each Louisville home basketball game.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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