To be sure, Louisville football is bad this year.
Like, really bad.
Like, really, really bad.
The Cardinals are 2-9. They have already fired their lovable head coach Bobby Petrino. Under new interim boss, Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward, they were steamrolled 52-10 by North Carolina State on Saturday. They are 106th nationally in total offense; 116th in total defense; 120th in scoring offense; 128th in scoring defense.
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We probably need to add at least one more “really” in front of that “bad.”
So can a 2-9 Louisville really upset an 8-3 Kentucky when the two teams meet Saturday night in the expanded facility formerly known as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium?
Of course Louisville can.
First of all, UK-U of L is a rivalry game. You know the old cliché about tossing records out the window in a rivalry game and all that. That’s not just one of those go-to phrases TV announcers use to get you interested in a mismatch. It’s a cliché because sometimes it’s true.
If it pleases the court, we wish to introduce Exhibit A, the game film from Kentucky-Tennessee Nov. 26, 2011, at Commonwealth Stadium. The jury might remember UK lacked a single healthy quarterback to face an archrival it had not beaten in 26 years. So wide receiver Matt Roark handled the duties of the most important position on the field. There’s no way UK snaps a quarter-century losing streak with a wideout playing QB.
Final: Kentucky 10, Tennessee 7.
Kentucky had nothing to lose that day just as Louisville has nothing to lose this Saturday. No one is expecting the Cardinals to win, even when a victory over Kentucky would nearly save what has been a disastrously epic season off Floyd Street. (Hiring Jeff Brohm as the new head coach would be a decent consolation prize.)
Not that any Kentucky football fan is particularly sorry to see Petrino out on the street. He is the same coach who in Louisville’s 40-24 victory over Rich Brooks’ Cats in 2003 called a late timeout so U of L could score a rub-it-in touchdown. When Louisville won 28-0 the next year, Petrino had his quarterback take a knee at game’s end only to twist the knife afterward by saying, “We gave them what they wanted.”
And who can forget the pre-game scuffle between the two teams in 2014 in which UK football staffer Dan Berezowitz and Petrino had each other by the collar as if they were both about to throw hands? (Excuse me, aren’t you guys supposed to be the adults?) No punches were thrown, but the Cats pushed the heavily-favored Cards to the brink before losing 44-40.
Two years later, Kentucky was a 27-point underdog for the annual Governor’s Cup game. Louisville was ranked 11th. Its quarterback, Lamar Jackson, was a month away from accepting the Heisman Trophy. You know the rest of the story. Austin MacGinnis kicked a 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to give Kentucky a momentous 41-38 win.
The tables have now turned. Kentucky is ranked; Louisville is, well, not ranked. But as UK Coach Mark Stoops has referenced more than once recently, after so long being the hunter, his team is still learning how to be the hunted.
The Cats swallowed that bitter pill two weeks ago. They rolled into Knoxville as a touchdown-favorite for their conference rivalry game with Tennessee. UK was 5-2 in the SEC; the Vols were 1-4. By nightfall, however, Kentucky was limping back to Lexington having been tattooed with a 24-7 loss.
So hold off on that victory lap.
“They’re always going to come out swinging against us,” Kentucky linebacker and Paintsville native Kash Daniel said Saturday of the Cardinals. “No matter what their record might say, they’re a very talented football team that will come out with a fire and we’ve got to match their intensity.”
Can the hapless Cards actually beat the ranked Cats on Saturday?
It’s Kentucky football. Stranger things have happened.
Kentucky at Louisville
7 p.m. (ESPN2)