Sports

No marquee QB matchup when Cats face Cards

SIMPSONVILLE — Glamorous fly boys have been the rule in the recent battles for the Governor's Cup.

Tim Couch head-to-head against Chris Redman for two years. Three seasons of Jared Lorenzen vs. Dave Ragone. Andre Woodson matched opposite Brian Brohm three times, too.

Kentucky vs. Louisville has usually all but screamed matchup of flashy quarterbacks.

Not so this year.

As I listened to Rich Brooks and Steve Kragthorpe preview the 2009 UK-U of L meeting at the annual Governor's Cup luncheon at The Cardinal Club Thursday, my thoughts turned to this year's QB face-off.

What we have ahead in '09 may be the least "sexy" quarterback matchup since Billy Jack Haskins (UK) faced Jason Payne (U of L) in 1996.

Even last year, when both teams were installing new starting QBs, there was more star power. Louisville's Hunter Cantwell had played well in relief of an injured Brohm in prior years and was being (over-)hyped in the pre-season as perhaps the best senior quarterback in the country.

This season, Louisville has no clear picture of who will start under center when it visits Commonwealth Stadium Sept. 19.

Former Lexington Catholic star Justin Burke (a North Carolina State exile) and junior college transfer Adam Froman are said to lead redshirt freshman Zack Stoudt (son of former Steelers QB Cliff) in a very open quarterback derby.

The three games in which Burke appeared at N.C. State are the sum total of U of L's quarterback experience. Kragthorpe says the junior benefitted from learning the Louisville program during his transfer year last season.

"I thought Justin had an excellent spring," the Louisville coach said.

When fall practice starts, Kragthorpe said he would take 10 days and hopefully winnow the QB race to two. Then, take another 10 days and pick a clear starter.

Asked if he would be apt to go to a two-quarterback system, Kragthorpe said "I could, but I don't like to."

Kentucky, at least, knows who it's starting QB will be. Mike Hartline started nine games a year ago; UK won six of those.

The bad news was that Hartline lost his starting job for four games late in the year and never consistently showed the arm strength to, as they say, stretch the field.

As a result, a fan base used to the exploits of Couch, Lorenzen and Woodson never seemed to warm to Hartline. The junior didn't help himself in that realm by turning in a spotty 2009 spring game.

Still, Brooks insisted Thursday there will be a better Hartline this fall.

"His percentage of completions. More positive plays," the UK coach said when asked in what areas Hartline would show improvement. "Don't forget, there will be a better team, more playmakers, around him."

Brooks also pointed out again for those impatient with Hartline that his numbers as a sophomore starter (55.3-percent completions; 1,666 passing yards; 9-8 TD-interception ratio) were remarkably similar to Woodson's sophomore season (57.7%; 1,644; 6-6).

Complicating life for Hartline is that UK signed two lavishly hyped quarterbacks in its current recruiting class.

My guess is poor Hartline has roughly two series in Kentucky's season opener against Miami (Ohio) to get the UK offense moving. If he doesn't (and this is only half facetious) I expect Cats fans to be calling for Morgan Newton or Ryan Mossakowski on the field for the third series.

Brooks said Thursday the "probability" was that one of the prized freshmen would play "some" in 2009 with the other redshirting. That decision, the UK coach said, will depend heavily on which freshman shows the quickest capacity to "absorb" a college offense.

On paper, Louisville has talented offensive skill people (think Victor Anderson, Doug Beaumont, a healthy Scott Long) returning — everywhere but quarterback.

Competent QB play Sept. 19 could give the Cards a better upset chance in Commonwealth than most presently imagine.

Then again, if you believe the more experienced quarterback is the way to pick in early-season rivalry games (and it so often is), it makes UK's frequently maligned Hartline perhaps the major key to the Wildcats' hopes of beating U of L for a third-straight year for the first time in the modern history of the rivalry.

Which is why a Governor's Cup quarterback matchup that lacks the sex appeal we're accustomed to nevertheless holds no shortage of intrigue.

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