It’s no secret the University of Louisville’s football season hadn’t gone as planned.
Heading into the finale on an eight-game losing streak, a lot can be salvaged with a win over intra-state rival Kentucky in a battle for the Governor’s Cup Saturday at Cardinal Stadium.
In the 31st all-time meeting between the two schools – with the series tied at 15-15 – the two schools will look to break the deadlock at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“I think it’s all about pride,” interim head coach Lorenzo Ward said. “I think you can take records and throw them away. Traditionally, when two teams in the same state go against each other, it becomes a pride deal, and it’s something that you get to brag for 364 days a year if you win.”
Despite the 2-9 record, the Cardinals have had success in the series, winning six of the last seven contests. The only win for the Wildcats during that stretch was a 41-38 win at Cardinal Stadium in 2016.
“I think anytime you play a rival, the guys on the other side are going to play harder, Ward said. “It’s about pride, so you can throw the records out. Regardless of how a season’s gone, it’s still the same as if we were undefeated.”
While the Cardinals have had a disappointing season, the Wildcats, led by a tenacious defense and running back Benny Snell, have an opportunity to win their ninth game of the season, a first since 1977.
I think we have to play well in all phases,” Ward said. “Turnovers are always a big key to the ballgame. If we get turnovers, then you give your offense more opportunities to put points on the board. We can also get turnovers and score ourselves, so it’ll be crucial for us to get turnovers in this ballgame because they’re really, really good on defense.”
Snell is one of the nation’s top running backs, leading the way with 1,205 yards and needs 205 yards to become UK’s all-time leading rusher in school history.
“I think he’s really worked on his patience. He’s just not ramming it up in there,” Ward said. “He’s trying to find open gaps, and then, he hits it. He has no problem balancing the football. He moves well. He’s physical. He drives his legs on contact. And then, he’s catching the ball out of the backfield well this season. So, he’s always been a really good back, but I think he’s more complete.”
While Snell has been the central figure on offense, Josh Allen, who is considered a first-round draft pick by the experts, is the equivalent on the defensive side of the ball.
With two sacks last weekend, Allen became the Wildcats’ all-time sacks leader with 27.5 and ranks third nationally this season with 13.5.
“I think we’d be not very smart as coaches if we don’t know where 41 is,” Ward said. “Again, he can destroy an offense. I was blessed to coach Jadeveon Clowney and you had to know where he was on offense or he would destroy your game plan, so you’ve definitely got to know where Josh Allen is.”
The Cardinals dropped to 2-9 last week with a 52-10 loss to NC State, but the Cardinals had good energy to start the game, only to falter in the second half. The Cardinals took an early 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Blanton Creque.
However, the Wolfpack would score 45 unanswered points to pull away from the Cardinals. Ward hopes the team can manage its energy for four quarters, especially in a rivalry game of this magnitude.
“I think they’ll definitely have the same energy that we had,” Ward said. But again, we can’t have it for a half, we’ve got to have it for four quarters.”
Despite being at Louisville for two seasons, Ward understands where these two programs are at in regards to this rivalry.
Anytime you’re in a major city like Louisville, and then you have Lexington right up the road, so, you’ve got to figure that it’s got to be a heated rivalry,” Ward said. “And then, being in the game last year, it’s definitely a heated rivalry. There’s no love lost between the teams, I think.”