Mark Story

How Kentucky and Louisville match up — with a game prediction

Louisville's Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass against Wake Forest in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.
Louisville's Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass against Wake Forest in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. AP

How Kentucky and Louisville match up for Saturday’s game in Commonwealth Stadium:

Quarterbacks

In his first career start at Kentucky, Drew Barker was more game manager (16-of-29 passing, 129 yards, no interceptions or touchdowns) than difference maker last week against Charlotte. UK will likely need more from the former Conner High School star if it is to best Louisville. A year ago, ex-Lexington Catholic star Kyle Bolin came off the U of L bench and decimated Kentucky, throwing for 381 yards and three TDs to lead a 44-40 Cardinals comeback victory. This year, does Bobby Petrino ask Bolin to recreate that magic? Or, noting UK’s epic struggles against mobile QBs, does U of L go with true freshman Lamar Jackson and his team-best 548 yards rushing?

Advantage: Louisville

Running backs

Kentucky’s Jojo Kemp (165 yards) and Boom Williams (140) each went over 100 yards rushing against Charlotte, and true freshman Sihiem King was close (91). A year ago, Williams ran for 126 yards and two TDs against the Cardinals. Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff has had a so-so season, but leads Cardinals running backs with 525 rushing yards. In 2014, he ran for 67 yards and two TDs in U of L’s victory over UK. This season, Bobby Petrino has used Reggie Bonnafon, who started at quarterback against Kentucky last season, as a Kordell Stewart-type “slash.” Bonnafon has run for 270 yards, thrown for 192 and caught nine passes.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

In Drew Barker’s first start last week, sophomores Garrett Johnson (five catches) and Jeff Badet (four) led Kentucky in receptions. Badet, who missed last season due to injuries, has 29 catches on the season, seven more than he had as a true freshman in 2013. Louisville’s Jamari Staples did a pretty good DeVante Parker imitation last week at Pittsburgh, catching nine passes for 194 yards and a TD. The transfer from UAB leads the Cardinals with 35 receptions, four more than ex-Trinity star James Quick.

Advantage: Even

Tight ends

After catching six passes at Mississippi State, Kentucky freshman C.J. Conrad has only three receptions in the four games since. Louisville junior-college transfer Cole Hikutini has nine catches and three TDs in the past three games. For the season, Hikutini (15) and freshman Mickey Crum (13) have combined for 28 receptions.

Advantage: Louisville

Offensive linemen

As a senior, former Lexington Christian standout Zach West has shared the left guard position with sophomore Nick Haynes. Saturday will be the final game in Commonwealth Stadium for UK senior left tackle Jordan Swindle and West. Like Kentucky’s, Louisville’s offensive line has struggled to pass block (allowed 43 sacks). The Cardinals starting center, Tobijah Hughley, is a Lafayette High School alumnus.

Advantage: Kentucky

Defensive linemen

Kentucky seniors Farrington Huguenin and Cory Johnson will make their final Commonwealth Stadium appearances Saturday. Each is going out strong. Huguenin has 16 tackles in UK’s last two games. Johnson has 14 stops in the past two games and made an amazingly athletic interception for a 300-pound defensive lineman against Charlotte. Louisville senior end Sheldon Rankins is disruptive. The 6-2, 303-pound Covington, Ga., product has 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

Advantage: Louisville

Linebackers

Commonwealth Stadium will get its final look Saturday at the rare transition that is senior Josh Forrest. The wide receiver turned middle linebacker leads Kentucky in tackles for a second straight season with 85. Senior weakside linebackers Khalid Henderson (58 tackles) and Ryan Flannigan (50) will also play their final UK home games. Louisville inside linebackers Keith Kelsey (team-best 98 tackles) and James Burgess (85) make plays. Outside linebacker Devonte Fields, a transfer from TCU, had two QB sacks at Pitt.

Advantage: Louisville

Defensive backs

After being benched midway through the season, Kentucky senior safety A.J. Stamps has reclaimed his starting job with demonstrably more physical play. Senior cornerbacks Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn, multi-year starters who have seen their roles reduced this season, also play their final home games. Louisville’s secondary is well-stocked with ex-Georgia Bulldogs. At 6-5, 230 pounds, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (72 tackles, two interceptions) is strong in run support. Cornerback Shaq Wiggins has two picks and a team-best 10 pass breakups.

Advantage: Even

Special teams

After a so-so senior season, Kentucky punter Landon Foster will look to go out with some boom. The status of UK place-kicker Austin MacGinnis (groin) may not be clear until game time. If he can’t go, walk-on place-kicker Miles Butler becomes a potentially vital player for Kentucky. Louisville place-kicker John Wallace is 14-of-19 on field goals but three of his five misses have come between 30 and 39 yards. On 58 punts, Josh Appleby has pinned foes inside their own 20-yard line 23 times. Kickoff return man Traevon Samuel, a 5-7 freshman, had a 100-yard TD return against Clemson and is averaging a robust 31.9 yards a return.

Advantage: Louisville

Prediction

In a rivalry upset, Kentucky 23, Louisville 21.

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