Early in the week, highlights of last year’s Louisville game played on television monitors inside Kentucky’s football training facility.
There were big runs, a 13-0 lead, lots of key plays being made by UK players at this time last year.
The TVs were dark by Wednesday, though.
“I told them to turn it off today,” Cats Coach Mark Stoops said. “I got tired of looking at it.”
With so many similarities between this year and last year — the Cardinals already comfortably bowl eligible, and the Cats needing this one last game to get to a bowl — UK’s players and coaches are hoping to avoid a rerun of that 44-40 loss.
“We came out and we played well last year,” running back Boom Williams recalled of the game that saw him rush for 126 yards and two touchdowns, including one that gave Kentucky a 40-37 lead with a little more than five minutes to play. “We had a chance to win, but we came up a little bit short.
“We just don’t want to have that same feeling and we’re in the same predicament as last year except for we’re at home on our home turf and we think that will be very special if we get that sixth win at home.”
There were less than a handful of plays that altered the outcome. Kentucky’s players are hopeful that seeing some of those plays on the screens around the building and in the meeting rooms this week will help change the outcome and get UK back to a bowl game for the first time since 2010 (also the last time it beat the Cardinals).
To players like linebacker Khalid Henderson, it’s an opportunity for a do-over, to have a chance to make the plays to win the game.
“It comes down to individual plays,” the senior said. “Last year it came down to a couple plays here and there to come out with a victory, but we didn’t. Just coming down to guys knowing that every situation is important, you can’t take a down off and just realizing that.”
There was pressure to get to a bowl last season. This season there’s the added pressure of beating a rival, winning for seniors on Senior Day and not ending this season with that same taste in their mouths as last.
Maybe next season Stoops will be able to show the game replay in its entirety all week long. Maybe it will be different this time.
“Same story,” senior defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin said of the similarities from a year ago. “We just got to write a different ending.”
Avoiding a day at the improv
As if preparing for a Bobby Petrino offense isn’t complicated enough for a defense, Kentucky’s coaches get the added bonus of having to prep for potentially three different quarterbacks.
Each quarterback, Lamar Jackson, Reggie Bonnafon and former Lexington Catholic standout Kyle Bolin, have had high and low points for the Cardinals this season.
“They’ve all played quite a bit,” Stoops said. “They’re very good players in their own right. They do some very good things. We’ll have to be prepared for all of their quarterbacks.”
But the one that has to worry the Cats the most is Jackson, a dual-threat quarterback, which is something the UK defense has struggled to contain this season (and many before that).
Jackson, who has appeared in 10 games with six starts at QB, holds the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
He leads the Cardinals’ offense in both runs (124 carries, 548 yards and seven touchdowns) and in passes (1,483 yards with nine TDs and seven picks).
“He adds that dimension of ad-libbing a little bit because he’s a very athletic guy as well,” Stoops said. “He’s a talented player and you see he’s a guy who can be a definite threat when he pulls the ball down and extend plays.”
No doubt Petrino sees an opportunity for Jackson against the UK defense, which had major issues this season with similar quarterbacks in Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to run the ball,” Petrino said of Jackson said this week. “That’s one of his strengths and certainly, I think, is something he’s good at it. He does a good job of running the football whether it’s called plays or improvising off drop-back passes.”
Kentucky will have to be aware of whatever quarterback is behind the line Saturday, including Bolin, who connected on 21 of his 31 passes for 381 yards last season against the Cats.
“Their quarterbacks are talented in different ways, so you have to be aware of that,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “You have to be aware of what their talents are and be able to defend that.”
5-7 bowl teams?
There has been much speculation nationally about what will happen if there aren’t enough teams with six wins to fill the plethora of bowls.
But there’s been zero chatter on the UK front about it even though the Cats are one of those teams that could be in that interesting 5-7 limbo at the end of this weekend.
“I’d hate to comment on that,” Stoops said Wednesday. “We desperately want to get six. I don’t want you in here asking me those questions next week. I want to be in here talking about six. So, I don’t want to think about that.”
If Kentucky were one of those teams to get invited to a bowl with a losing record, it sounds like the Cats would jump at the opportunity just because of the extra practices allowed with postseason play.
“We need the practices,” Stoops said. “We’re getting better as the season goes on. We’re developing younger players. We’re getting better. We need the work.”
On the other side of the fence is Louisville at 6-5.
The Cardinals’ coach said the idea of losing teams getting into postseason play is “something you don’t want to think about. That’s something that’s hard to think about,” Petrino said Monday.
When asked if perhaps there are too many bowls, Petrino said: “There could be if you’re getting down to that.”
Louisville at Kentucky
Noon (SEC Network)