How Kentucky (7-4, 4-4 SEC) and Louisville (7-4, 4-4 ACC) match up at every position — with a game prediction:
After coming to Kentucky as a little-known junior-college transfer, Stephen Johnson (1,938 yards passing, 62.1 percent completions this season) has become a Wildcats football folk hero. Since becoming UK’s primary QB last year, the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., product has led the Wildcats to a 14-8 record. In UK’s 41-38 upset of No. 11 Louisville last season, Johnson torched the Cardinals for 338 yards and three touchdowns passing and ran for 83 yards. Louisville star Lamar Jackson has improved his passing over his Heisman Trophy-winning season a year ago. In 2017, Jackson is completing 59.8 percent and averaging 297.6 yards a game compared to 56.2 percent and 272.5 yards last season. In two games against Kentucky, Jackson has diced the Wildcats with his legs. He ran for 186 yards in 2015 and 171 more in 2016. Last year, however, Jackson turned the ball over four times against UK — three interceptions and the late-game fumble that allowed Kentucky to drive for the winning field goal. The U of L star said after last week’s 56-10 win over Syracuse he’s been thinking about making up for that fumble for a year.
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Kentucky sophomore Benny Snell (1,107 yards, 16 TDs) had his streak of 100-plus-yards rushing games snapped last week at Georgia. Yet the 94 yards on 22 carries the 5-11, 225-pounder gained on the Bulldogs’ stout run defense was impressive. “I saw a lot of tough yards. I really did. You have to admire how hard he’s run the football,” Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said. Louisville senior Malik Williams (509 yards, four TDs on 60 carries) comes off his best game of the season, having rushed for 180 yards and two TDs vs. Syracuse. U of L will also use senior Reggie Bonnafon (383 yards, five TDs), the former Trinity High School quarterback.
Kentucky senior Garrett Johnson (46 catches, 500 yards, two TDs) is wrapping up a stellar UK career. With 2,050 career receiving yards, the 5-11, 175-pound Winter Garden, Fla., product is only the fourth UK wideout to go over 2,000 yards. UK seniors Blake Bone (13 catches, 234 yards, two TDs), Kayaune Ross (13, 175) and Charles Walker (12, 134) will also play for the final time at Kroger Field. Louisville has a trio of capable wideouts in junior Jaylen Smith (47 catches, 798 yards, five TDs), redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick (43, 662, eight) and sophomore Seth Dawkins (37, 577, four).
With Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad (16 catches, 286 yards, four TDs) out for the season due to a foot injury, senior Greg Hart will be asked to step up in his place. The Nebraska transfer has caught three passes for 25 yards this season with a TD. Over the years, Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino has hurt Kentucky many a time on crossing patterns to the tight end. U of L senior Charles Standberry (20, 155, one) has caught at least one pass in every game this season.
Kentucky senior tackle Kyle Meadows (34 career starts) and senior guard Nick Haynes (29 career starts) will play their final home games. After seeing his weight fall into the 260s due to Type 1 diabetes, Haynes has not started since the Missouri game. Louisville true freshman Cole Bentley, a former standout at Belfry High School, has started the past two games at right guard for U of L offensive line coach Mike Summers, the former UK assistant.
Kentucky senior nose guards Naquez Pringle (12 tackles) and Matt Elam (eight tackles) could play more Saturday than in recent weeks. True freshman Quinton Bohanna, now UK’s starting nose guard, injured an ankle at Georgia and it’s unclear how healthy he will be. Louisville senior end Trevon Young has returned from a severe hip injury suffered in the 2015 Music City Bowl that forced him to miss all of 2016. Young has 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven QB hurries and two sacks.
A transfer from Nebraska, Kentucky senior MLB Courtney Love has 72 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Last year, Love recovered the Lamar Jackson fumble that set up UK’s game-winning drive. Louisville true freshman MLB Dorian Etheridge enters the final game of the regular season as the Cardinals’ leading tackler with 69, one more than safety Chucky Williams.
Kentucky nickelback Kendall Randolph (28 tackles, one interception) is the lone senior among UK’s primary players in the secondary. The Wildcats have allowed 267.8 yards a game through the air to rank 115th out of 129 FBS teams. Louisville has also struggled to stop the pass, surrendering 244 yards a game (94th in the FBS). However, the Cards have been buoyed the past two games by the return of a healthy Jaire Alexander at cornerback. With the 5-11, 192-pound junior back from first a sprained knee and then a broken hand, U of L has allowed only 176 yards a game passing in wins over Virginia and Syracuse.
It is hard to overstate the impact senior place-kicker Austin MacGinnis (20-of-25 field goals, long of 53 yards) has had on Kentucky football. The Wedowee, Ala., product is UK’s career scoring leader (349 points) and hit game-winning field goals last season that beat Louisville and Mississippi State. UK punter Matt Panton (42.7 yards a kick), punt returner Charles Walker (17.2 yards a return) and ace punt-team gunner Charles Moushey (10 tackles) are also seniors. Louisville place-kicker Blanton Creque has had an efficient season (12-of-14 field goals, long of 48 yards). Punter Mason King averages 44.1 yards a kick. Reggie Bonnafon is averaging nine yards on nine punt returns.
Louisville 42, Kentucky 34