LEXINGTON — The Kentucky Wildcats talked a good rivalry game this week, but I don’t think there’s going to be as much venom as usual when they clash with No. 7 rated Louisville Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (noon on ESPN).
I get the feeling that most people see this as a bridge year, with the Cardinals (2-0) just too powerful for Mark Stoops’ first Kentucky team.
Not that Stoops and his staff can’t turn this rivalry around in the next year or two, but a win by Kentucky (1-1) this time around would be up there with Appalachian State over Michigan.
“The word love won’t be thrown around loosely when you put these two teams together in the same sentence,” UK senior running back Jonathan George said earlier this week, referring to Kentucky and Louisville. “The older guys like myself will put a little extra emphasis on the game, especially since it’s the Governor’s Cup.
“We need to come out and be focused and be ready to play Saturday.”
UK junior defensive end Bud Dupree was asked this week if the Wildcats “hate” Louisville.
Dupree laughed, which is the response that question deserves.
Finally, he said: “This is a big game for the whole program. I know all the fans hate Louisville, so we just have to go out and win for them.”
Dupree brushes off talk from either Stoops or Louisville coach Charlie Strong that this is just another game.
“I don’t think they’ll treat it that way,” Dupree said. “Everybody knows what’s at stake with this game, including my family members, who aren’t even from Kentucky (they’re from Irwinton, Ga.). They know what kind of game this is.”
No one can be absolutely certain how good either team is, of course. Louisville has dominated two opponents — Ohio University (49-7) and Eastern Kentucky (44-7) — it should dominate.
Kentucky look inexplicably flat in a 35-26 season-opening loss to Western Kentucky, and then showed at least flashes of potential in last Saturday’s 41-7 win over a dreadful Miami (Ohio) bunch.
All we know for sure is U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a fabulous
quarterback. And he has at least two wide receivers who could join him in the NFL right now in senior Damian Copeland (nine receptions, 130 yards) and junior DeVante Parker (nine receptions, 207 yards).
For UK’s sake, let’s hope Parker joins Copeland in the NFL Draft this spring. There they can toast Bridgewater, who could be the No. 1 player picked in the draft.
Louisville’s talented trio of running backs, Michael Dyer, Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown, haven’t taken off just yet, but why should they, when you have Bridgewater completing 80 percent of his passes (48 of 60)?
Dupree said the Cardinals could play with the best in the Southeastern Conference.
“I think they have as good a chance of ranking up there pretty high with those (SEC) guys, just by their ranking in the polls and the players that they have.
“Michael Dyer is as good a back as we’ll see, and Teddy Bridgewater ... everybody knows how Teddy plays and the receivers that they have. They can all make plays. And they beat Florida last year, so you couldn’t say they can’t play in the SEC.”
The hope for the Wildcats, even to keep this close, is that their improved offense can take another step forward and keep the ball out of the hands of Bridgewater and company.
That means we might see a more conservative approach from quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, unless Louisville’s relatively unproven defense is more vulnerable than I believe it is, and big plays can be had.
Senior Raymond Sanders has led a balanced Kentucky rushing attack, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
Juco transfer Javess Blue leads UK’s young wide receivers with nine catches for 139 yards. Franklin County grad Ryan Timmons, a true freshman, is next with six catches for 61 yards.
UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said the players on his side of the ball have gained confidence from the Miami game and are practicing with an even greater sense of purpose this week.
“I think any time with young people, when you start having a little bit of success, I think you can build off it,” Brown said. “I think they’ve kind of seen the fruits of their labor last Saturday, and we’ve had good, spirited workouts.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Avery Williamson leads Kentucky with 20 tackles.
Freshman defensive back Blake McClain has also been impressive for the Wildcats, adding 13 tackles.