By Rocco Gasparro for Inside the Huddle
After dominating Kentucky from 2003-06, the Cardinals are frustrated. Having lost four in a row to the Wildcats, the senior class has a chance to accomplish something it has yet to do since signing to play at Louisville – beat Kentucky.
The seniors are 0-3 against Kentucky and have an enormous opportunity to change the tide on Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPU in Lexington.
Louisville has dropped its last two games at Commonwealth Stadium, but the margin of victory has been just 10 points. Louisville lost in 2007, when Stevie Johnson scored on a long pass play in the final seconds. The Cardinals were in control of the game in 2009, leading 27-24 five minutes before a crucial turnover on a punt gave the Wildcats the football, which led to the winning score.
Head coach Charlie Strong is 0-1 versus Kentucky after a 23-16 loss at home in his first game as coach of the Cardinals. He hasn’t been around the rivalry much, but fired the first shot – not at the opponent, however – on Monday when he said he didn’t think his team could beat the Wildcats.
“We’re going to go face a team now that is a very good football team,” said Strong. “You look at Kentucky, and I don’t know if we can beat Kentucky right now. Kentucky returns 10 starters on defense. Their whole offensive line is back and that is the nucleus of their football team right now.
“They’ve beaten us four straight years. They’ve been to five straight bowl games. We’ve been to one bowl game in four years. They have out-recruited us. We still have a ways to go. We have to go catch that program because, within this state right now, Kentucky leads the series. We have a long ways to go. We have to continue to rebuild this program and get this program headed back in the right direction.”
Defensive end Greg Scruggs is one player who has yet to experience the joy of hoisting the Governor’s Cup following a win over Kentucky and he has heard his head coach’s comments.
“Proof is in the pudding,” said Scruggs. “We haven’t beaten them in four years. They’ve obviously gotten off to a good start in their season. We’ve had some bumps in the road. My coach calls it how he sees it. He’s been honest since he’s gotten here. He hasn’t changed that approach to the way he coaches and the way he talks to us. That’s how he honestly he feels, so you can call it motivation. It gives you a little bit more to work for.”
Despite not being from the state, Scruggs understands the importance of the rivalry to the program and the fans.
“It means a lot, the instate rivalry,” said Scruggs. “The one thing you don’t want to do is give too much emotion to it because then your emotions start to take over, then you won’t pay attention to the details and the things you need to work on as far as the scheme and the technique. It is a big deal obviously and it is a big game with the rivalry and the history that it has. You want to do your best not to make it more than what it is.”
The Cardinals are coming off a 24-17 loss at home to FIU last Friday night. It was a game the Cardinals felt they should’ve won, out-gaining the Panthers 446-293 and 24 first downs to nine. However, the Cardinals gave up three big plays, including an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The offense drove the football up and down the field, but sputtered in the red-zone and left points on the field.
Junior quarterback Will Stein, who completed 30-of-49 passes for a career-high 349 yards, likes the direction of the offense despite its inability to cross the goal-line in certain situations.
“I like our playmakers,” said Stein. “I think our guys are really going out there and making plays. I see DeVante (Parker) out there as a true freshman who has two touchdowns already. Michaelee (Harris) had a great game. Victor (Anderson) and Jeremy (Wright) are running hard. I think we got guys out there who want to make plays and are making plays. We just have to get better and finishing and scoring more points. You can’t go out there and have 450 yards of offense and score 17 points and win a game. It just doesn’t work like that. As the leader of the offense, I have to be a better manager and get us in the end zone more. A lot of that stuff I can control, so I need to do a better job of that this week.”
The Cardinals will need all their playmakers and more at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats have the momentum after winning their first two games, but the Cardinals will be ready to see if they can prove their head coach wrong and stop the streak.