UofL facing a widening gap in series with Kentucky

Published 2:52 pm Sunday, November 28, 2021

Louisville’s fans, who comprised the majority of the crowd of 55,018, probably left Cardinal Stadium Saturday night wondering how much longer they are going to have to wait before the Cards defeat arch-rival Kentucky again after the latest dominating Wildcat victory.

That’s the biggest question looming over UofL’s program because UK has had all the answers lately.

“It was a bad night. I just think they were better than us tonight,” UofL coach Scott Satterfield said after UK — a three-point underdog — blew out its hosts 52-21.

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Make that much, much better. Just as the Cats have been in the last three meetings when they have dominated the Cards by 46, 32 and 31 points for an average margin of 36.3 points — the most lopsided three-game span in the 27-year history of the Governor’s Cup series. The first loss, 56-10, occurred in Bobby Petrino’s final season as head coach, the last two — 45-13 and Saturday — have come under Satterfield.

Gone are the days of Louisville’s domination when it won six of seven from 2011-2017 and lost the other one by three points.

It certainly looks as if the Cats (9-3) have reached the point of physical superiority — bigger, faster and stronger. Not only have the Cards (6-6) lost the last three games by a combined 153-44, they have surrendered a staggering 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.

The evidence from Saturday’s beatdown clearly supports that theory. UK scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and six of its first eight. It settled for a field goal on another and had the ball at midfield when time ran out in the second quarter.

“Certain people were missing assignments and missing their gaps,” UofL defensive back Qwynnterrio Cole said. “Kentucky capitalized on that. Everything went their way tonight and you saw the result.”

Louisville’s offense also struggled.

Malik Cunningham was supposed to be the best quarterback on the field and went into the game as a candidate for a number of postseason awards. But just as his team was outclassed, he played second fiddle to UK’s Will Levis, who tied a school record with four touchdowns in a game while running for 113 yards and passing for 149. Chris Rodriguez added 121 yards as the winners outgained UofL on the turf, 362-144. Cunningham threw for 145 yards and had just 35 yards rushing on 11 carries.

“The defense couldn’t get off the field on third down and couldn’t stop the quarterback,” Satterfield said. “If you’re not doing something well on one side of the ball, you hope the other side picks you up, and that didn’t happen tonight. Minus our first drive, it was a little bit of snowballing with both sides not doing what they needed to do.”

The snowballing became more like an outright avalanche.

After Cunningham moved the Cards 75 yards on their opening drive and scored on a two-yard run, UK scored 38 straight points.

Cunningham left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter. Backup Evan Conley threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Josh Johnson and guided the Cards to another insignificant TD in the final eight seconds.

“I thought we had a good prep week and I thought our guys were focused,” Satterfield said. “I thought we had a good plan. I just think (UK) executed a lot better, blocked us a lot better than we blocked and tackled a lot better. We just got beat all the way around.”

However, as you might suspect, there was a difference of opinion about the Wildcats’ apparent superior physical play.

“We are the more physical unit and it was obvious tonight,” UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. “It was a no-contest, and that’s the way it should be.”

Satterfield was having none of it. “The first year was a mismatch for sure. It was different tonight. I do think they blocked well, but I don’t think it was a physical mismatch. I know there were holes and there were guys running free. One of the plays, we brought pressure and (Levis) spins out of a tackle and picks up a big first down. That’s not a physical mismatch, that’s a missed tackle. We didn’t tackle well.”

Postgame comments by a couple Kentucky players indicated that the Cats had an advantage in the coaching department too, most notably on defense, where UofL defensive coordinator Bryan Brown never made any adjustments, or at least none that worked.

Levis said his team successfully ran the same play over and over and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who had nine catches for 97 yards, said it didn’t take him long to see signs that the Cats could inflict another embarrassing beating on their rivals.

“You just see they’re not defensing whatever we’re doing and everything’s working and we can call about any play we want and we’re going to make sure it works,” Robinson said. “Because we’re the most dominant team and we’re more physical than they are.”

UK offensive guard Luke Fortner was asked what UofL can do to get more competitive in the rivalry.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be Scott Satterfield.”

The evening’s highlight for Louisville fans had nothing to do with anything that happened on the field, but rather a ceremony in recognition of the late Howard Schnellenberger, whose persistence coaxed Kentucky into playing UofL annually starting in 1994.

Schnellenberger, an All-American receiver at UK under Bear Bryant, was honored with a video tribute and UofL athletic director Vince Tyra presented his family with a framed jersey during a first-quarter timeout. Schnellenberger’s widow, Beverlee, was also on hand for the coin toss. Her husband, who coached Louisville for 10 seasons and guided them to victories in the Fiesta and Liberty bowls, died in March at 87.

The Cards will now have time to lick their wounds while they await their postseason destination. But the Fiesta, Liberty or any of the other most prestigious bowls won’t be calling.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.