Louisville is excited about Saturday's meeting with rival Kentucky for reasons beyond Bluegrass State supremacy.
After dominating Ohio and Eastern Kentucky by a combined margin of 93-14, the No. 7 Cardinals (2-0) expect a tougher test from the Wildcats (1-1). Louisville's defense is preparing for an up-tempo offense run by quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow, who combined for 413 yards passing while alternating plays to help Kentucky roll up 675 yards in a 41-7 victory over Miami (Ohio).
The Cardinals' high-powered offense led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater expects a stiffer challenge than in their first two games. Louisville also ready for a charged atmosphere at Commonwealth Stadium as it seeks to win a third straight Governor's Cup in a series Kentucky leads 14-11.
Even Cardinals coach Charlie Strong is hyped up about the game. It is the last time the teams will meet in September before the game becomes the annual season finale for both squads beginning next season.
"All games are big games but let's face it, some games are bigger than others," Strong said. "This is one of those games. Not only is it a rival game, but it's also our first road test.
"We know the environment we're going into. We've got to pack our defense, our kicking game, our discipline and our togetherness and play a complete game for 60 minutes."
Louisville seeks its second straight win at Commonwealth, where Bridgewater, as a freshman, relieved an injured Will Stein and threw two touchdowns in a 24-17 victory in 2011. The victory jump-started his impressive career and he returns as a Heisman hopeful with a crop of talented receivers, looking to keep the Governor's Cup in the Cardinals' possession.
Kentucky aims to halt both streaks in its final nonconference contest that also begins a four-game stretch against ranked teams over the next five weeks. The rebuilding Wildcats are approaching this game as just a step in the process as a way of maintaining focus, but linebacker Avery Williamson said even the youngsters understand it's bigger than that with just 80 miles between the campuses.
"They know, they get the feeling it's a big game," Williamson said. "We treat it like this is the next game. ... We don't want to put too much emphasis on it. It's good to win it."
Here are five things to watch as No. 7 Louisville faces rival Kentucky:
PRESSURE THE QBs: Both teams come in looking to follow up impressive pass-rushing performances. Kentucky racked up five sacks for 34 yards against Miami (Ohio), three by defensive end Za'Darius Smith. Louisville had four against EKU, two by linebacker Preston Brown. While the Wildcats face a tall task getting past a Cardinals line that has allowed one sack of Bridgewater, Louisville could have its hands full dealing with Smith and Whitlow.
BLANKET COVERAGE: As if covering Damian Copeland, DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers isn't enough for Kentucky's secondary to worry about, the Wildcats must keep their eyes on new Cardinals additions Robert Clark, Kai De La Cruz and tight end Gerald Christian. No matter who's in the game, the Wildcats can't yield any space to receivers because Bridgewater will find them.
RUNNING BY COMMITTEE: After gaining just 78 yards on 28 carries against EKU, Cardinals running backs know they must generate more than 2.8 yards per attempt against Kentucky. Strong reiterated his philosophy of shared responsibility between Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and former Auburn star Michael Dyer as Louisville tries to find its main back, adding that they simply have to run harder for yards in Louisville's quest for offensive balance.
KEEPING COMPOSURE: Kentucky committed 11 penalties for 117 yards last weekend, setbacks it can't repeat against Louisville. One troubling first-quarter sequence: Daryl Collins fielded and fumbled a punt inside the 10 that Miami returned for a touchdown before the Wildcats were flagged three times for 33 yards on their next drive. Smith responded with an 88-yard touchdown pass, a save that might be harder to duplicate on Saturday.
STATE PRIDE: Louisville's hardware haul last year began with retaining the Governor's Cup trophy awarded to the winner since the rivalry resumed in 1994. Standing 33 inches tall and weighing 110 pounds, the marble, crystal and gold-plated metal trophy could be considered a workout for the two or more people required to lift it. Both teams have plenty of players eager to get their reps in.
AP Freelance Writer James Pennington in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.
Online: AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
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