How Kentucky and Louisville match up for Sunday's game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium:
Pressed into action last season as a true freshman, Maxwell Smith showed promise by throwing for 769 yards and four TDs (with two picks) in his last four games. The California product could take a major step forward in 2012. A ballyhooed recruit, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater came off the bench as a true freshman against UK in 2011 and threw for two touchdowns to lead the U of L upset. Bridgewater (2,129 passing yards; 64.5 completion percentage) will look to cut down on interceptions (12) in 2012.
Never miss a local story.
Diminutive veterans CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders and true freshman bruisers Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor give Kentucky a versatile stable of backs. A season ago, Louisville's Dominique Brown (91 yards) hurt UK out of the Wildcat formation and Jeremy Wright ran for 54 yards against the Cats on only seven carries.
La'Rod King (40 catches, seven TDs in 2011) is UK's only proven wide-out entering 2012. Senior E.J. Fields played the best game of his UK career (seven catches including a TD) against U of L last season. Cats coaches have talked up the big-play ability of smallish sophomore Demarco Robinson since spring practice. Even without injured Michaelee Harris, U of L wide-outs, led by sophomores Eli Rogers (41 catches in 2011) and DeVante Parker (six TD catches), are expected to be a team strength.
Right guard Larry Warford gives Kentucky an All-Southeastern Conference candidate, and senior center Matt Smith brings experience and savvy to a line with three new starters. Louisville senior center Mario Benavides anchors a front that has four starters back but needs to improve after surrendering 42 sacks in 2011.
Kentucky's Tyler Robinson has good hands and is a physical blocker. UK coaches say redshirt sophomore Ronnie Shields has a chance to be a play-maker. After the graduation of Josh Chichester, Louisville's tight end situation is unsettled. Senior Nate Nord (eight career receptions) is expected to start.
Led by massive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, the Kentucky front is expected to be a team strength. Louisville got a big game in Lexington a season ago from ex-Bryan Station standout Roy Philon (2.5 tackles for loss). Former quarterback Marcus Smith has turned into a pass-rushing specialist (team best 5.5 sacks in 2011) at defensive end.
With Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy gone, Kentucky expects middle linebacker Avery Williamson and hybrid linebacker/rush end Alvin "Bud" Dupree to emerge as stars. Louisville WLB Daniel Brown had six tackles against UK last season. MLB Preston Brown had 84 tackles in 2011.
Kentucky's Martavius Neloms has moved back to cornerback (where he started in 2010) after a strong campaign at safety last season. True sophomore Ashely Lowery could be a potential standout. Louisville returns two All-Big East performers in senior cornerback Adrian Bushell (three pass breakups in 2011) and junior strong safety Hakeem Smith (84 tackles, nine pass breakups).
Senior Craig McIntosh (23 of 29 field goals) gives Kentucky a proven place-kicker with good range (8-for-12 from 40-yards plus in career). True freshman Landon Foster will do UK's punting. The Cats hope Demarco Robinson can put some life into what was a dismal return game in 2011. U of L has named true freshman Josh Appleby its punter and kickoff specialist but has not chosen a place-kicker between redshirt freshman John Wallace and sophomore Matthew Natatani.