Derrick Locke ran for two touchdowns and Kentucky held off rival Louisville 23-16 Saturday, keeping the Governor's Cup for the fourth straight season and making Joker Phillips victorious in a matchup of longtime friends debuting as head coaches.
Phillips, who gained prominence as a coordinator of a record-breaking offense at his alma mater, has hinted this 2010 version could be as good as the Andre Woodson-led unit of three and four years ago. The Wildcats didn't disappoint in the opener, gobbling up yardage in bulk — particularly on the ground from Locke, who had 104 yards on 23 carries.
For Charlie Strong, who once coached alongside Phillips at South Carolina and more recently guided Florida's dominating defense to two national titles in seven years, the rebuilding project has begun at Louisville.
Kentucky scored all but three of its points in the first half before the offense began to stall. But Louisville's playmakers couldn't match Kentucky's early intensity, and two key turnovers sealed the Wildcats' first four-game winning streak since the annual series renewed in 1994.
It didn't take Phillips long to put his own stamp on a program he inherited from his mentor, Rich Brooks, who led it to four consecutive bowl appearances.
After winning the toss and electing to receive — something Brooks would never do — Kentucky needed just two explosive plays to go 70 yards for the game's first points.
The game also marked a return to the lineup for senior quarterback Mike Hartline, who missed seven of the Wildcats' final eight games last season and had to fend off a challenge from two talented underclassmen for the starting job.
First, Hartline connected with La'Rod King on a 38-yard pass. Then, Locke burst through the line, made one spin move and ran untouched to the end zone from 32 yards out.
The Wildcats committed no turnovers, largely thanks to the efficient play of Hartline, who connected on 17 of 26 passes for 217 yards.
Kentucky went even farther — 82 yards — on its second scoring drive. Locke got the ball on six of the Wildcats' 10 plays in that drive, including a 1-yard sweep for his second TD in the opening quarter.
With Kentucky's offense already clicking, it was playmaker Randall Cobb's turn to prove he is still the star.
Cobb showed his athletic ability by leaping into the air and catching a lob with only his left hand — one of just two catches he made in the game. Instead, he did his damage in the return game and on the ground, and even as quarterback in the final drive as Kentucky iced the game.
One snap after making his dazzling catch, Cobb took the ball on an end-around and cruised down the sideline 51 yards — Kentucky's third and final touchdown of the game.
Kentucky had built a 17-point lead at that point, and a possible blowout was brewing. Although the Wildcats never appeared in serious jeopardy of letting the lead slip away, it was more Louisville's mistakes that allowed them to hold on.
A holding penalty caused the Cardinals to squander a trip to the Kentucky 5 just before halftime, managing only a field goal. The Wildcats led 20-6 at the break.
While Kentucky showed off the far more balanced attack, Louisville got a career-best game from senior running back Bilal Powell, who rushed for 153 yards. He got 80 of those on a third-quarter touchdown run, easily his longest ever, which cut the lead to 23-13 midway through the third quarter.
A third Chris Philpott field goal trimmed the score to the final margin, but Kentucky's defense ended other Louisville threats at a comeback, halting consecutive late drives with turnovers. Mychal Bailey intercepted a pass from Adam Froman, who completed just 14 of 29 passes. Then, Ridge Wilson scooped up a ball that slipped out of Powell's hands.
One of the few low points for Kentucky was the performance of kicker Ryan Tydlacka, who missed an extra point and a chip field goal attempt that could have stretched the lead.