If Kentucky football is going to slip the clutches of a four-game losing streak to dreaded rival Louisville, four things must happen Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
1. The Cardinals have to be too cocky. Louisville is a two-touchdown favorite. Head coach Bobby Petrino is 4-0 as the U of L coach against UK. As previously mentioned, Louisville has won the last three meetings. And the 'Ville is still savoring last Saturday's 31-28 victory before Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's last win on an opponent's home field was 2010 at Papa John's. Mark Stoops used videos and guest speakers to pump up his team in regard to the rivalry. It's a win-or-pack-up-the-balls game for the Cats, hungry for any bowl, while the Cards are playing for a better bowl.
It seems unlikely Louisville would enter a Kentucky game flat, especially under the fiery Petrino, but strange things can happen in rivalry games.
2. Force turnovers. Louisville is 14th nationally in scoring defense, so Kentucky can't afford to continue to give up points at its current rate, an average of 43.8 per game over the last five games, all losses. The best way to keep Louisville from scoring — plus give the UK offense the ball in scoring position — is to turn the Cardinals over.
That won't be easy. After intercepting 13 passes in the season's first eight games, UK hasn't picked off a pass in the last three. Nor has Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon been interception-prone. The true freshman has thrown just two interceptions in 113 attempts. One was a late first-half pick at Notre Dame that acted as a punt.
Even when Notre Dame got Louisville in third-and-longs, not only did the Irish not force turnovers, it could not get off the field. Its first two drives, both touchdown drives, the Cards converted on third-and-14, third-and-16 and third-and-10. For Kentucky to win, that can't happen.
3. Control the running game. Kentucky is 98th nationally in rushing yardage allowed. The Cats surrendered 200-or-more rushing yards in seven of their 11 games, 300-or-more to LSU, Mississippi State and Georgia.
On the flip side, Louisville ground up Notre Dame in the second half. Brandon Radcliff rushed for 136 yards in the second half alone. For the game, Petrino called running plays with success on second-and-15 (Bonnafon 22-yard run on a draw), second-and-10 (Radcliff 9-yard run), second-and-6 (Radcliff 41-yard run) and second-and-7 (Radcliff 15-yard run).
If Kentucky can't reverse the run trend, the Cats have no chance.
4. Patrick Towles has to step up. The former Highlands star is a Kentucky kid with no great love for the Cardinals. This week, Towles didn't don the red practice jerseys quarterbacks normally wear so that they won't be tackled during drills.
To win Saturday, however, Towles has to up his game. He can't throw interceptions to a Louisville defense that feasts on picks. Gerod Holliman has 13. Two Louisville interceptions set up touchdowns against Jameis Winston and Florida State. A Louisville interception set up a key field goal at Notre Dame. Towles has tossed one pick in three straight games.
Towles must also complete a higher percentage of passes. He hasn't completed 60 percent of his throws since the South Carolina game back on Oct. 4, when Towles was 20-for-29. In Kentucky's five-game losing streak he's completed 53.2 percent. He must be more efficient.
"I'd just like to see him go back to really playing a quality game," Stoops said of Towles this week. "I'd like to see him really put it all on the line this last week and go out and just play and be the great leader that he's shown at times this year and really just lay it on the line and play a quality football game for us."
For Kentucky to win Saturday, it's going to take that — and more.