John Clay

Kentucky football might have the recipe to sideline Louisville

Houston safety Garrett Davis, left, tries to tackle Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson during the second half of Houston’s 36-10 win over U ofL on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Houston.
Houston safety Garrett Davis, left, tries to tackle Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson during the second half of Houston’s 36-10 win over U ofL on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Houston. Associated Press

You don’t have to tell Kentucky about Lamar Jackson.

The Cats learned the hard way about Louisville’s freakishly athletic quarterback long before the sophomore soared to the top of the Heisman Trophy leader board.

In the last game of last season, Kentucky led 24-7 at halftime before Jackson turned on his unique jets, and a UK lead evaporated into a 38-24 Louisville victory. Jackson rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries while throwing for 131 yards and another score.

This season, Jackson picked up where he left off, leading Louisville in spectacular fashion to nine wins in its first 10 games before the Cards inexplicably no-showed in a 36-10 loss Thursday at Houston.

Still, Jackson is a pulse-pumping weapon. How do you stop him?

One way: Keep him on the sideline.

When the rivals rumble Saturday at noon at Papa John’s Stadium, Kentucky may possess the ingredients to follow the recipe. Say hello to the Boom and Benny Show, featuring Boom Williams and Benny Snell, UK’s twin 1,000-yard rushers who figure to be key to the Cats’ chances of pulling an upset.

You know the storyline. Expected to be a wide-open offense under new coordinator Eddie Gran, the Cats morphed into a ground-and-pound philosophy that emphasized ball control. Through 11 games, UK has run the football 65.9 percent of the time, its highest percentage since Eliot Uzelac coordinated Bill Curry’s offense in 1994. That team, featuring Moe Williams behind a two tight-end set, ran the ball 66.1 percent of the time.

This year’s team has been successful running the ball. After Saturday’s 49-13 win over Austin Peay, Kentucky ranks 17th nationally in rushing yardage, averaging 242.4 per game. Williams is 32nd nationally, averaging 97.5 rushing yards. Snell is 42nd, averaging 91.45 yards. On Saturday, Snell set the school’s freshman season rushing record by passing — you guessed it — Williams.

To make sure Jackson watches more than he runs, Kentucky has to control the football. On Oct. 14, David Cutcliffe, Duke’s wise old coach, used that game plan to nearly upset U of L at Papa John’s before falling 24-14. Last Thursday in Houston, Tom Herman’s Cougars used a short passing game, throwing 46 times for 298 yards, to keep the Cardinals off balance.

Controlling the clock against Louisville won’t be easy. Coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense ranks sixth nationally against the run, allowing 99.2 yards per game. Nose tackle DeAngelo Brown, a 6-foot-1, 310-pound rock, is an NFL draft prospect. His matchup with UK center Jon Toth will be fun to watch. Linebacker Keith Kesley is extremely active and leads the Cards in tackles.

Will Louisville be motivated? That’s the question. Its hope of making the College Football Playoff vanished Thursday in Houston. Clemson’s win over Wake Forest on Saturday night knocked the Cards out of the ACC Championship Game. How will Bobby Petrino’s team deal with deflation?

On the other side, Kentucky has met its goal of six wins and bowl eligibility. The rest is cake. The program’s first win over its archrival since 2010 would be icing on that cake.

UK knows that won’t be easy because it remembers last year. And the best way to keep Lamar Jackson from a repeat performance is to keep him on the sideline.

Kentucky-Louisville football series

Date

Site

UK

UofL

Res

9/3/94

Lexington

20

14

W

9/2/95

Lexington

10

13

L

8/31/96

Lexington

14

38

L

8/31/97

Lexington

38

24

W

9/5/98

Louisville

68

34

W

9/4/99

Lexington

28

56

L

9/2/00

Louisville

34

40

L (OT)

9/1/01

Lexington

10

36

L

9/1/02

Louisville

22

17

W

8/31/03

Lexington

24

40

L

9/5/04

Louisville

0

28

L

9/4/05

Lexington

24

31

L

9/3/06

Louisville

28

59

L

9/15/07

Lexington

40

34

W

8/31/08

Louisville

27

2

W

9/19/09

Lexington

31

27

W

9/4/10

Louisville

23

16

W

9/17/11

Lexington

17

24

L

9/2/12

Louisville

14

32

L

9/14/13

Lexington

13

27

L

11/29/14

Louisville

40

44

L

11/28/15

Lexington

24

38

L

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