Sidelines with John Clay

Three quick things from Kentucky football’s press luncheon for Louisville

Coach Mark Stoops and UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart were all smiles as they walked off the field after the University of Kentucky Wildcats defeated UNC Charlotte 49ers at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, November 21, 2015. UK won 58-10.
Coach Mark Stoops and UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart were all smiles as they walked off the field after the University of Kentucky Wildcats defeated UNC Charlotte 49ers at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, November 21, 2015. UK won 58-10. Lexington Herald-Leader

Three quick things from Mark Stoops' press luncheon previewing Saturday's game against visiting Louisville, which is a noon start on the SEC Network.

1. No more monkey business

Kentucky came into last season's game at Papa John's Stadium determined to make a statement. That led to a pre-game scuffle that nearly turned into an all-out fight with the Cardinals. Players and even coaches had to be separated. Emotions were on high.

Stoops said Monday he wants his team to be emotional but minus the extracurriculars. The head coach said he would talk to his team about avoiding what happened last year at U of L.

"We've got to just focus on playing football," he said. "Really not looking forward to any of that."

That's smart. The Governor’s Cup rivalry should be intense, but it shouldn't include the nonsense that happened before last season's game. That takes away from both schools.

And, as Stoops pointed out, emotion also hurt Kentucky last year when the Cats were hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Fred Tiller returned an interception for a touchdown giving UK a 20-14 lead. With Kentucky backed up 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, Louisville started its next drive at the UK 47 and turned the field position into a touchdown and a 21-20 halftime lead.

Q&A: Mark Stoops previews Louisville

2. Louisville's quarterback situation

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has played multiple quarterbacks this season, often in the same game. Last Saturday's loss at Pittsburgh was another example. Former Lexington Catholic star Kyle Bolin started and completed 10 of 20 passes before being replaced by talented freshman Lamar Jackson. Reggie Bonnafon, who started last year's UK-U of L game, has started at quarterback, relieved at quarterback and also played some running back.

Stoops said it really doesn't make a difference who the Cardinals start or play at quarterback. That seemed surprising considering Bolin is a dropback passer who is not much of a running threat while Jackson is a dangerous runner who can also "spin the football," as Stoops said Monday.

"They don't change much," said the Kentucky coach of the Louisville offense. "They do a lot anyway. They have a lot of offense. You've got to prepare for a lot of things in general. With our preparation, it really doesn't change our prep much."

Jackson is completing 57.5 percent of his passes and is the Cards' leading rusher at 54.8 yards per game. Bolin has completed 57.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Bonnafon has thrown just 24 passes on the year.

3. No shying away from the importance of the game

From the day Stoops arrived on campus, the coach has never tried to downplay the Louisville game or the rivalry. That's not his style. He doesn't go out of his way to pump it up, but he's not backing away from it either.

The game has taken on added importance the past two years now that it is the final game of the regular season. Kentucky was 5-6 and in need of a win for bowl eligibility last season. The same scenario exists this season. Only the site of the game has changed.

"Our players know that," Stoops said of what’s at stake as far as the post-season. "We're not afraid to mention it; we will. It's important for us to get the sixth win. It's important for us to beat Louisville and end the season on a more positive note."

At present, Louisville is a 3.5 to four-point favorite Saturday.

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