Kentucky looks to end 4-game slide vs. Louisville
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky has no wiggle room against Louisville if the Wildcats want to join the postseason party. The visiting Cardinals would love to extend their in-state rivals' bowl drought another year.
It's a familiar situation for Wildcats' fans.
Kentucky (5-6) once again enters Saturday's Governor's Cup showdown needing a victory over Louisville (6-5) to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Last year's quest fell just short for the Wildcats in a wild 44-40 loss contest preceded by a skirmish between players and coaches that went viral.
The atmosphere figures to be just as charged at Commonwealth Stadium, considering Kentucky's urgency of reaching the six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops has emphasized channeling that intensity toward their primary goal but is mindful of the many benefits of winning a rivalry game.
Should Kentucky earn its second straight must-win game, there will be cause for celebration.
''We put ourselves in this position with some miscues late in the season,'' Stoops said, referring to a loss at Vanderbilt in particular. ''So it is what it is and now we need to go out and play well in this game. It always has importance and I think it is very important to us this year.''
Louisville trails the series 13-14 but has won four straight and is tied 8-8 in Lexington. The Cardinals have qualified for postseason and look to improve their December destination.
What Louisville seeks most is a rebound from last week's 45-34 loss at Pittsburgh that halted a four-game winning streak and a three-year string of at least nine victories. A seventh victory is still admirable goal considering its 0-3 start, and Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino hopes his players focus on that ahead of bragging rights that will take care of themselves if they succeed.
''It's really about us winning and finishing our season,'' said Petrino, who is 6-1 all-time against Kentucky and 5-0 with the Cardinals. ''Playing for our seniors and taking care of our business. I think that's what the No. 1 thing is.''
Here are other things to watch when rivals Louisville and Kentucky meet:
GAME MANAGEMENT: Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker was solid if unspectacular in his first start against Charlotte, completing 16 of 29 passes for 129 yards in the 58-10 rout. Then again, he didn't have to be a star with the ground game churning out 415 yards. He hit seven receivers might face more responsibility if Kentucky can't run, and that's where Stoops wants to see growth and results.
KYLE OR LAMAR? Louisville's quarterback situation is once again a game-day decision as Petrino decides between starting sophomore Kyle Bolin or freshman Lamar Jackson. Bolin opened the game before giving way before halftime to the mobile Jackson, who helped bring the Cardinals back from a 42-24 hole before falling short.
DEPARTING SENIORS: Kentucky will say goodbye to 18 seniors including injured defensive lineman Melvin Lewis, leading tackler Josh Forrest and offensive tackle Jordan Swindle. Recruited by former coach Joker Phillips, this class seeks its first victory over the Cardinals since 2010. ''I know it's very important to them,'' Stoops said. ''I'm proud of the way they've led. They've been a good group.''
SPREADING WINGS: As Louisville prepares for another possible QB change, Cardinal receivers have thrived. Junior Jamari Staples caught nine passes for a career-best 194 yards and a TD last week at Pitt, and tight end Cole Hikutini has nine receptions for 148 yards and three TDs in the past three games.
NUMBERS GAME: If recent trends mean anything, Kentucky's prospects of ending its slide against Louisville and hoisting the 33-inch-tall, 110-pound trophy look promising on Saturday. Since the series resumed in 1994, neither school has won more than four in a row. The Cardinals look to break that trend with a fifth straight victory.
AP freelancer Josh Abner in Louisville contributed to this report.
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