By Matt Overing | Football beat writer
The battle for the Governor’s Cup ended in a Louisville victory for the third year in a row. UK turned the ball over three times in a 27-13 loss to the Cardinals.
Holding on to the ball was a problem throughout the game for the Cats. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow fumbled the ball on UK’s second drive of the game. Louisville recovered and took the first lead of the game on a 36-yard field goal.
UK responded three drives later with a field goal of their own, tying the game 3-3. Defense dominated the first quarter, with each team punting at least twice.
UK head coach Mark Stoops said after the game he was proud of the way his defense played.
“Overall, yeah, I was happy with the effort,” Stoops said. “I felt like our guys were starting to play more aggressive, make (Louisville) earn their yards.”
UK’s offense, however, could not pick up points.
UK drove deep into Louisville territory late in the second quarter, but a fumbled hand-off between sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith and senior running back Raymond Sanders ended UK’s longest drive of the half.
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said that specific turnover changed the game.
“They could have walked out of there with three points,” Strong said. “You never know what could have happened at the start of the second half. To get that stop, knowing that we were going to get the ball at the start of the second half (was big).”
In eight offensive possessions in the first half, the UK offense accumulated three points, two turnovers (both fumbles) and five punts.
UK freshman wide receiver Ryan Timmons said that the offense was disappointed in their performance.
“It’s disappointing that we lost when our defense did a good job getting stops,” Timmons said. “On offense, we just have to try to be more consistent.”
Consistency was a problem for the offense in part due to dropped passes. UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said drops were an issue the entire game.
“We didn’t make routine plays,” Brown said. “Routine throws, routine catches, routine blocking in the run game early. We have to pay more attention to detail.”
Timmons finished the game with three receptions for 72 yards and two rushes for 13 yards. He said that dropped passes were missed opportunities for the Cats.
“If we had caught those balls, it would have been a different game,” Timmons said. “We had a lot of holes that were there, we just had to finish.”
Louisville took advantage of a tiring UK defense in the second half. The Cards scored on their first two possessions in the third quarter. Both drives were 80-plus yards and both drives lasted over four minutes.
Strong said the running game, which compiled 252 yards on 41 carries, helped the offense get going in the second half.
“We were able to go run the football,” Strong said. “Our offensive line just grinded it out.”
In the middle of the third quarter, Smith exited the game with a shoulder injury. Smith said after the game that he lost velocity after his arm was pulled back by a Louisville defender.
“I could throw the ball but I didn’t have enough velocity on it,” Smith said.
UK leaned on the running game from there on out. The Cats finished the game with 31 rushes for 189 yards, led by freshman Jojo Kemp’s five carries for 80 yards. Both Stoops and Brown said that Kemp would receive more playing time in future games for his performance against Louisville.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Louisville had extended their lead, 20-3. UK would cut the lead to 14 with a 30-yard field goal from senior Joe Mansour, but Louisville answered.
A six play, 83-yard Louisville drive was capped by a 36-yard touchdown run by Louisville senior running back Senorise Perry.
UK responded with a 15 play, 75-yard drive. Whitlow stepped in for the injured Smith at quarterback and converted two fourth downs on the drive to cut the Cards’ lead to 14 once more.
UK’s final drive faltered on the Louisville 27-yard line. Stoops said that stalled drives were disappointing.
“(Drops) are drive killers,” Stoops said. “The next thing you know, instead of hitting that (pass), you’re third-and-10. That’s not good against a very good team.”
UK finished 0-for-13 on third down.
UK has a bye week next week before playing three straight ranked SEC opponents. Stoops says the bye is coming at the right time.
“I think we’re a little banged up,” Stoops said. “It would be nice to be at full strength during that stretch.”