Mark Story

Cats rewrite script for Governor's Cup

LOUISVILLE — Not so very long ago, the Governor's Cup trophy was as much a Louisville fixture as Lynn's Paradise Cafe.

Not so long ago, you could pretty much count on the same script year after year in our state's premier football rivalry.

Louisville swaggered and dazzled and dissected Kentucky.

UK bumbled and fumbled, all the way to seven losses in eight meetings (1999-2006) opposite U of L.

Well, that worm has now officially turned.

Kentucky's 27-2 smashing of punchless Louisville Sunday in a steaming hot Papa John's Cardinal Stadium yielded far more than just UK's second straight victory over Steve Kragthorpe's crew

It represented a complete and total role reversal for our state's two most scrutinized college football programs.

During last season's dreary 6-6 slog, a large part of the Louisville fan base turned on Kragthorpe with fury.

On a day when the embattled Kragthorpe had a chance to deliver a statement win in front of the third largest crowd (42,696) in Papa John's Stadium, his team instead did an exact imitation of Brooks' early UK teams in the Governor's Cup rivalry.

Louisville had special teams meltdowns (a blocked field goal and a shanked punt).

Not once, but twice, U of L was penalized for having 12 men on the field. Once, it came as Kentucky was lined up to punt and gave UK a first down.

Just to top off a thoroughly sloppy offensive effort, Louisville turned the ball over a whopping five times — three interceptions and two lost fumbles. The latter two were returned for touchdowns on a day when the Kentucky defense alone would've beaten U of L if the Cats' offense hadn't even played.

"We didn't get anything going on offense today," Kragthorpe said. "Turnovers, you can't turn the ball over. We just didn't do a good enough job on offense and that's the bottom line."

A stout Louisville defensive effort was wasted because of the offensive futility.

Now, it is Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich who will come out of the rivalry game having to defend his football coach. Thirteen games at a school is not remotely a fair time to judge a football coach. Our state's experience with Brooks show that.

Which, in a message board world, won't make things any easier for Kragthorpe. He can just be grateful his first name doesn't rhyme with "Ditch."

Back in the days when Brooks was starting out 0-4 against U of L, the coach was feeling plenty of heat beneath his own chair.

How quickly things can change.

Last year, a Kentucky team with ample offensive weaponry won a 40-34 shootout with a Louisville team ranked No. 9 in the country.

Sunday, UK whipped the Cards far more decisively on the scoreboard yet did it in a dramatically different way.

The UK offense was anemic in its own right, outgaining U of L by a meager 210-205 (this was not your Mumme or Petrino football game).

But Kentucky turned the ball over only once (a Tony Dixon fumble after the game was well in hand) and relied on a defense that more than lived up to its pre-season improvement hype.

When you can beat your archrival two years in a row and do it in such contrasting styles, it says your program has taken a big step forward.

"I said coming into the season that we had a really good football team," Brooks said. "I said that because we have a lot of really good football players. But we've got to get our offense going."

If UK is going to do any significant damage in the uber-loaded SEC, it's going to take a humongous step forward offensively over what it showed Sunday. Still, by winning here, Kentucky dramatically increased its chances of getting six wins and a third straight year of bowl eligibility.

What are the odds? Suddenly, it is Kentucky finding the way to win.

Suddenly, it is Kentucky players that just love the Governor's Cup.

"I really look forward to coming home now," said Myron Pryor, the Louisville product turned UK defensive tackle who set up a touchdown with a forced fumble and scored one himself on a wheezing, 72-yard rumble with another fumble. "It hasn't always been like that."

When it comes to the Governor's Cup rivalry, you might just say everything has changed.