With great anticipation and high expectations, 25th-ranked Louisville opens the 2012 season on Sunday afternoon in the annual showdown for the Governor’s Cup against rival Kentucky.
The teams will kick off at 3:30 p.m., ET at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and in front of a national television audience on ESPN. After a win in last year’s game with the Wildcats and with the momentum of the program’s second BIG EAST title in 2011, the Cardinals have been tabbed by many as the favorites to not only win another BIG EAST title, but also retain possession of the Governor’s Cup.
“It does not matter what is said because you are able to go prove it on Sunday. We have tried to block the noise out,” said third year Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. “I don’t even talk about it. I don’t even bring it up. We want our players to understand that the battle is won on the field. It does not matter where people rank you.”
Overall, the Cardinals return 18 starters from last year’s squad, including 10 on defense and eight on offense. That Louisville squad halted a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats with a 24-17 win at Commonwealth Stadium. Sunday’s matchup will be the 25th meeting all-time between the two schools and one of the key battles is expected to be up front between the Cardinals’ offensive line and the Wildcats’ defensive front.
“We are going to want to run the football, so it is going to be our concern to move (the UK defensive front) out of the way and run the ball,” said Strong. “If you are strong enough up front, which Kentucky is this year, it (UK) can create issues.”
One of the anchors for the Cardinals’ offensive line in the battle up front is senior center Mario Benavides, who missed last year’s game with the Wildcats. His leadership and experience could be the key components to the level of success Louisville can experience offensively and as a team in 2012.
“Last year, that was kind of the missing piece for the first part of the season,” said fellow senior offensive lineman Alex Kupper. “Once we got him going and we all had a couple of games together, you could really see how the offense kind of took off. It should help a lot. He’s a guy who has played for numerous years and he has a lot of experience, so it should help.”
Despite the leadership of veterans like Benavides and Kupper, the Cardinals remain a very young team. With the overall youth of the squad, Strong and his staff are depending on some of the experienced underclassmen to take on more of a leadership role, which will be needed in a rivalry game like the one on Sunday.
“We are a young team and we have only 10 seniors,” Strong said. “The seniors are doing a better job with leading. You have a group of guys that are trying to lead. But, because we have so many young players, I tell guys like Teddy (Bridgewater) and Preston (Brown) to not be afraid to be afraid and step up and a voice on this football team. Right now, I told coaching staff to back away and see if someone will step up and lead this team. (Will) Stein does an unbelievable job with it.”
Kentucky at #25 Louisville
When: Sept. 2, 2012 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000) – Louisville, Ky.
Radio: 840 WHAS Radio
Series Record: UK leads 14-10
In Louisville: UK leads 6-3
Last Meeting: Louisville won 24-17 at Commonwealth Stadium in 2011