Mark Story

Mark Story: The three key questions that will determine if UK beats U of L

Louisville Cardinals's Kyle Bolin (14) a Lexington Catholic graduate handed the ball off to Louisville Cardinals's Michael Dyer (5) in the third quarter of the Kentucky at Louisville football game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 29, 2014. Louisville won 44-40.
Louisville Cardinals's Kyle Bolin (14) a Lexington Catholic graduate handed the ball off to Louisville Cardinals's Michael Dyer (5) in the third quarter of the Kentucky at Louisville football game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 29, 2014. Louisville won 44-40. palcala@herald-leader.com

The game

Louisville at Kentucky

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play Dave Neal; analysis Matt Stinchcomb; sideline Kayce Smith)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 118

Records: Louisville (6-5, 5-3 ACC), Kentucky (5-6, 2-6 SEC)

Series: Kentucky leads 14-13, but Louisville leads the modern series (since 1994) 13-8.

Last meeting: Louisville won 44-40 on Nov. 29, 2014, in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

Favorite: Louisville by 3 1/2 points

Three key questions

1. Is Drew Barker ready to win a big game?

Kentucky’s redshirt freshman quarterback was solid (16-of-29 passing for 129 yards) in his first career start last week against Charlotte. With UK running for a whopping 443 yards in a 58-10 victory, Barker did not have to be more than that. What has been a good Louisville defense (allowing only 326.4 yards a game) turned in a clunker last week in surrendering 45 points and 476 yards in a loss at Pittsburgh. Unless the U of L defense “no-shows” again, Barker will probably need to make plays to win this game. With Kentucky bowl eligibility hanging in the balance, we’ll see if the former Conner High School star is ready for that.

2. Does Kyle Bolin get a chance to sink Kentucky again?

Entering the 22nd battle for the Governor’s Cup, Bobby Petrino faces a major quarterback dilemma. Does he start Kyle Bolin, the former Lexington Catholic star who strafed UK last season for 381 yards passing and three TDs in relief of an injured Reggie Bonnafon? Or, noting how helpless the 2015 Kentucky defense has oft been against dual-threat QBs, does Petrino go with true freshman Lamar Jackson, who leads the Cardinals in rushing with 548 net yards?

3. Which offensive line steps up?

Kentucky has struggled mightily this season to protect the passer, allowing 27 sacks and ample other quarterback pressures. Louisville, believe it or not, has been worse. The Cardinals have given up a whopping 43 sacks. So the 2015 renewal of the commonwealth’s marquee football rivalry may come down to whether the blue or the red offensive front plays above the level it has demonstrated for most of the season.

The mood

Is mixed. Kentucky’s five-game losing streak in the second half of the season brought significant criticism on Mark Stoops for the first time in his three-year UK coaching tenure. The Wildcats turned in an energetic performance in snapping the skid against overmatched Charlotte, however, suggesting Stoops has not “lost” his team. Now, for the second straight season, Kentucky faces Louisville with bowl eligibility at stake. Win, and Stoops’ third UK season will be deemed as progress; lose, and it won’t be.

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