Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - As the regular season comes to a close, the Kentucky Wildcats will battle it out with the 24th-ranked Louisville Cardinals Saturday in an instate rivalry game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Nothing would put a stamp on coach Mark Stoops' second season in Lexington quite like defeating No. 24 Louisville in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible. Kentucky has lost five straight games though, including a 50-16 crushing at the hands of Tennessee two weeks ago. The team's bye week hopefully helped it prepare for the Cardinals.
Louisville is already headed back to a bowl game, sitting on an 8-3 record. The team has won two in a row, and took down Notre Dame last weekend, 31-28. The team is ending its season with two consecutive non-conference events.
The two in-state rivals have met 26 times on the football field in their storied histories, and Kentucky holds a very slim 14-12 all-time lead. The Wildcats even own a 6-4 advantage in Louisville.
The Wildcats began the season with an impressive 5-1 record, but have since fallen five straight times to drop below .500. The team is still averaging 28.2 ppg largely thanks to quarterback Patrick Towles, who has thrown for 2,542 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 starts. Towles averages 231.1 passing ypg for the Wildcats, who gain just shy of 390 offensive ypg as a unit.
Although Kentucky does average 153.4 rushing ypg, the team doesn't have a real threat to break out on the ground. Stanley Williams leads the team averaging 40.2 ypg, and has gained the most yards on the ground (362) than any other UK rusher. Towles leads the team with six rushing scores on the year, adding a team-high 132 totes.
Through the air, the team has had ups and downs. Ryan Timmons leads the Wildcats this season with 45 catches for 536 yards, and averages 48.7 receiving ypg. Javess Blue, on the other hand, owns team highs in receiving yards per game (51.6) and touchdown grabs (five).
Defensively, the Wildcats have seen better days, especially when it pertains to their last five outings. Kentucky is surrendering 30.1 ppg to opponents, who are also gaining an average of 401 offensive ypg through 11 contests. In just the last two weeks alone, the Wildcats have given up a combined 113 points to Georgia and Tennessee, and have only held an opponent to fewer than 41 points once in the team's last five losses. Only two SEC teams have scored fewer than 36 points against Kentucky.
Justin Forrest has been a strong leader for the defense, registering a team- best 102 tackles on the season with eight tackles for loss, two interceptions and two quarterback hurries. One thing the Wildcats have struggled with is stopping an opponent for a loss. Alvin Dupree is the only Kentucky player to record double-digit tackles for loss through 11 games, coming into the Louisville matchup with 10.5 and 6.5 sacks.
Louisville has been dominant all season long, even when the team has dropped contests. The Cardinals haven't lost a game by double-digit points yet, and entering senior day, coach Bobby Petrino says the team will be ready to go against their in-state rivals.
"We are doing just like everybody else in the country, and there is a lot at stake for both universities," Petrino said. "So it should be very exciting for our fans, very exciting for their fans."
Louisville's offense averages 31.5 ppg this season, and was still on point last weekend as freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon got the start. In eight games this season, Bonnafon has thrown for 842 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He's replaced Will Gardner, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
On the ground, the Cardinals are getting the most out of redshirt sophomore Brandon Radcliff, who has 581 yards and nine touchdowns. He and Michael Dyer each average over 50 ypg on the ground, while Bonnafon can contribute to the ground game with his legs as well.
Bonnafon has the luxury of throwing to one of the nation's premier wideouts in DeVante Parker. The extremely talented Cardinal missed the first half of the season with a foot injury but has made up for lost time, with 29 receptions for 555 yards (19.1 ypc) with two TDs.
Defensively the Cardinals have been stellar in 11 contests, allowing just 18.7 ppg and only 290.2 offensive ypg to opponents. They are especially good against the run, limiting teams to 88.5 rushing ypg having given up just seven ground scores all season long. With seven scores on the ground and 13 through the air, Louisville has only allowed 20 offensive touchdowns this season.
Safety James Sample leads the Cardinals this season with 69 tackles, adding in three interceptions and five pass breakups to his resume. Linebacker Keith Kelsey is right behind Sample's tackle total, registering 68 stops with six tackles for loss and five sacks on the year. But Gerod Holliman is definitely the team's defensive MVP, having racked up 13 interceptions and 32 tackles this season.
"(The seniors) have done an unbelievable job for the program, it is amazing how many wins they have had, the big bowl games that they went to," Petrino said. "I have been so impressed with them when we first came in, and you are thinking that these are going to be some guys that will be reluctant or resistant and they were great."