LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — In its last visit to Louisville, Kentucky stunned the Cardinals 41-38 to end a five-game losing streak to its in-state rival. The Wildcats are favored to duplicate the feat Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Kentucky (8-3) has already secured a bowl bid and will look to bring the Governor’s Cup home to Lexington for the second time in three years. Mark Stoops said the Wildcats will need to play with an edge to avoid a potential upset similar to a disappointing 24-7 setback at Tennessee two weeks ago.
“How emotional (were we) going to be on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday when we’re prepping for us and how we play?” he said. “That’s where you can’t turn it on, on Saturday. You’ve got to have the edge and the attitude all week, and it’s the end of the year and our players are beat up and put a lot into it and all that, but they have to find that balance of the proper preparation. It helps with experienced teams. Sometimes younger guys, it’s too emotional, and that’s only going to carry you so far.”
The Wildcats won’t have to worry about Lamar Jackson, who won the Howard Schnellenberger Award in two of the past three games between the two foes, but Stoops still thinks the Cardinals are good enough to pull off a potential upset.
Stoops is more concerned about his own squad and ending the season on a high note after losing two games during the past three weeks. The Wildcats defeated Middle Tennessee 34-23 last week at Kroger Field.
“We’re just worried about us and our execution and playing a disciplined football game,” Stoops said. “They beat us last time (44-17) here. I wasn’t very proud of that effort a year ago and we’re looking to just improve and we have a lot to play for. We got our eighth victory this past week and trying to play for nine. That’s our concentration on obviously preparing for them. Control the things we can control and that’s us and how we play.”
The Kentucky coach also will be counting on his 16 seniors to keep the emotions in check Saturday.
“They’ve been through this rivalry. Those 16 guys — they’ve been through it a few times and they’ve got to keep that in mind and play disciplined,” he said. “We always have to play with that edge and that mentality and play physical, but we have to play disciplined football.”
Stoops said earlier this week he didn’t see much change in the Cardinals under interim coach Lorenzo Ward in the Cardinals’ 52-10 setback to North Carolina State last week.
“They’re not going to reinvent the wheel in the last week,” he said. “They are gonna play the system that they play and they’re going to play hard. You see it in every game that they’ve played. They play hard and they play aggressive and some big plays or some trick plays and things like that have gotten out of their comfort zone as well.”
Although 2-9 on the season, Ward said the Cardinals have plenty to play for in what will be his last game as the team’s interim coach.
“I think it’s all about pride,” 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.”
For Kentucky, getting an elusive ninth victory is motivation enough.
“It’s about us and the way we play,” Stoops said.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Louisville, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN2, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.