Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s 52-21 romp over Louisville on Saturday night at Cardinal Stadium:
1. Will Levis is a ‘dawg’
That was Liam Coen’s description of his quarterback, the Penn State transfer who crashed the Governor’s Cup rivalry with a super Saturday splash, rushing for 113 yards and four touchdowns when he wasn’t completing 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards in what turned into a romp over the Redbirds.
“Will had an exceptional game,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said afterward.
So did Levis grow tired of all the bouquets passed Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham’s way all week? Not really, he said. Was there something else that motivated the Connecticut native to adapt so quickly to the intensity of this commonwealth’s FCS football rivalry? Chalk that one up to the team.
“You just kind of feel it, no matter where you’re from,” Levis said of the vibe he got from his teammates all week during practice.
Truth be told, Levis’ personality lent itself beautifully to this in-state battle. And any worries that maybe he would let his emotions get the best of him, those were quickly proven to be unfounded when Levis went 29 yards for a touchdown on a QB draw on UK’s first possession. There was much more where that came from.
“He’s just a competitor, that’s just who he is,” Coen said. “It’s every single day, every single meeting, every single walk-through, every single practice. He never takes a second off. He just doesn’t take a second off. He doesn’t want to settle for mediocrity.”
Levis was the opposite of mediocre on Saturday. He was the game’s MVP.
2. Brad White had a terrific defensive game plan
Kentucky’s defensive coordinator rendered Cunningham pretty much a non-factor. The same Louisville quarterback who threw for over 300 yards and rushed for over 200 yards in the Cards’ 62-22 trashing of Duke, who had thrown for 18 touchdowns and run for 18 more this season, managed just 145 yards passing (12-for-20) and 35 yards rushing (11 attempts) against the Kentucky defense.
While Levis was rushing for four touchdowns, Cunningham ran for one. He did not throw a TD pass. He did throw an interception. Cunningham’s longest run of the night was just 9 yards. He was hurried on throws and hemmed in on runs.
“We knew the offense was going to run through him,” White said. “We had to do a good job of when it was drop-back pass situations of containing him and not allow big plays there. And we had to strain to the finish. And I think in both cases, our guys did.”
“We have a lot of respect for Malik,” Stoops said. “We know what kind of player he is.”
When on his game, Cunningham is a player who makes the players around him better. But Kentucky’s defense never gave the Cardinal quarterback a chance to do that Saturday.
3. The Governor’s Cup isn’t much of a rivalry right now
After all the talk this week about how happy we were to have the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry back, turns out this isn’t much of a rivalry. Not right now. Not over the past three years. Kentucky won 56-10 in 2018. Kentucky won 45-13 in 2019. After a one-year hiatus (2020), Kentucky won 52-21 in 2021.
Combined count: Kentucky 153-44.
And this year, Louisville was a three-point favorite, right?
What gives? Bottom line: Stoops’ team is just more physical. It’s superior in the trenches on both sides of the football. That has never been more clear than in the running game. In 2018, UK outrushed U of L 340-226. In 2019, the Cats rushed for a record 517 yards to Louisville’s 209. On Saturday, Kentucky outgained the Cards 362-144 on the ground.
“We knew we had that advantage coming in,” UK center Luke Fortner said.
When Stoops hired Coen from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams to bring more balance to the Kentucky offense, the worry was Kentucky might lose some of the physical presence it had previously established with its strong running attack. But this week especially, Stoops preached that his team needed to be more physical than it had played in recent outings.
They did that and then some Saturday, UK’s physicality dominating the game from start to finish.
Said Stoops on Saturday, “That’s football.”