Kentucky needs to beat rival Louisville for bowl eligibility
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky's postseason quest remains alive after a performance reminiscent of its 4-1 start that made a bowl bid seem inevitable.
The Wildcats need one more win to become bowl eligible, and it once again comes down to beating rival Louisville, which is just trying to improve its bowl position in the Governor's Cup showdown on Saturday.
This time around, the Wildcats (5-6) will host the Cardinals (6-5) in the annual battle for Bluegrass football supremacy. Having home field is no small matter for Kentucky, which scheduled eight games at renovated Commonwealth Stadium to boost its chances of reaching the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.
Kentucky enters the game just 4-3 at home after Saturday night's 58-10 drubbing of outmanned Charlotte. But coach Mark Stoops is grateful for these final two opportunities to close the deal after losing five straight losses.
''It's a definite advantage for us to play at home,'' Stoops said during Monday's weekly news conference. ''We need the stadium packed and we need a great environment to cheer this team on and get our sixth win.''
Not to mention, an effort similar to last week's dominance of the 49ers.
The Wildcats rushed for 415 yards, their highest total since gaining 441 against Virginia Tech in 1974. Jojo Kemp and Boom Williams combined for 305 with five touchdowns, an overpowering effort that allowed redshirt freshman Drew Barker to complete 16 of 29 passes for 129 yards in his first career start. Barker is listed first on the depth chart for Louisville.
''He looked comfortable back there, he looked poised,'' Stoops said of Barker. ''He needs more reps. With his first start, I was pleased with what I saw.''
Kentucky's defense meanwhile held Charlotte to 233 yards, made four sacks and recorded two interceptions among three takeaways. One pickoff was returned for a touchdown, while the other two led to more 10 points.
The Wildcats now need to maintain that momentum against a Cardinals team eager to make it five in a row in a series even at 8-8.
Louisville is coming off a 45-34 loss at Pittsburgh, only its second defeat in the past eight games. The program isn't far removed from desperation after starting 0-3 start and making postseason hopes seem farfetched.
The Cardinals are now headed for their sixth straight bowl, with the destination depending on whether they beat the Wildcats. That scenario adds more fuel to a rivalry that got physical before last year's kickoff in Louisville, with players and even some coaches mixing it up on the field during warmups. The Cardinals went on to win a 44-40 slugfest.
Emotions figure to be just as high with postseason prospects at stake, but Stoops will stress focusing on the task at hand ahead of statewide bragging rights.
''Motivation, that goes away very quickly,'' he said. ''It's about execution. Our team will be motivated to play, and so will theirs. It's about controlling those emotions and executing at a higher level.''