Louisville crushes Kentucky’s bowl game hopes

By Joshua Huff

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  • Kentucky recorded three interceptions in the first half.
  • Louisville scored 31-straight points after trailing Kentucky 24-7 to begin the second half.
  • Louisville out-gained Kentucky 325 to 81 total yards in the second half.
  • Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed 17 times for 186 yards as Louisville finished with a season-high 314 rushing yards.

Faced with the prospect of ending the season one game shy of bowl eligibility for a second-straight year, Kentucky proved to the doubters during Saturday’s 38-24 loss to Louisville in Commonwealth Stadium that the Cats are like cheese without the corners; they’ll never be a slice.

With the loss, Kentucky ends the season 5-7 for the second-consecutive year, all but ending the Cat’s hopes of becoming bowl eligible for the first time under head coach Mark Stoops.

The loss was fitting for Kentucky: The Cats started off strong, jumping out to a 21-0 lead behind two Kyle Bolin interceptions, but once the Cardinals settled in, they scored 31-unanswered points; a fitting end to a season that started strong and fizzled out. Kentucky struggled to contain the mobility of Louisville backup quarterback Lamar Jackson. He replaced Bolin late in the first quarter and finished the game with 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The loss of Stanley “Boom” Williams was devastating for Kentucky. He departed in the first quarter with an elbow injury after rushing seven times for 37 yards. The Cats remaining rushers totaled just 55 yards on the ground. A surprising feat considering Kentucky torched Charlotte last week for a season high 415 rushing yards.

What was shocking was that Kentucky ended the first half 6-for-9 on third down conversions, had a 24-7 lead, nearly doubled Louisville’s time of possession (10:52 to 19:08), had three interceptions and had 208 total yards to Louisville’s 164. Kentucky was chomping on fools gold though, as the Cardinals torched the Cats in the second half.

Louisville scored 31 points, totaled 325 yards, and rushed for 247 yards all in the second half. In the meanwhile, Kentucky’s meager offensive attack totaled just 81 yards and zero points in the final half.

Newly-minted starter Drew Barker struggled to read a Louisville defense that was helped by the butter hands of the Kentucky receivers. Barker finished the game 6-for-22 for 128 yards and was replaced by Patrick Towles in garbage time. Ironically, Towles’ final pass of the season was an interception; he finished the year with nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The question remains as to why Barker was left in the game despite throwing for minus one yard in the second half. His inability to throw away the ball, his lingering in the pocket, and his overthrows crippled Kentucky’s offense time and again.

His counterpart, Jackson proved that Kentucky continues to be unable to contain mobile quarterbacks.

“A lot of it was technique,” coach Mark Stoops lamented after the loss. Throughout the year, Kentucky has been humbled by elusive quarterbacks. Combined, the Cats have surrendered 354 rushing yards in losses to teams with mobile quarterbacks (Tennessee, Mississippi State and Louisville).

With Louisville now evening the all-time series at 14-all, the Cardinals can rejoice in becoming a perpetual thorn in the Cats’ side. A position made all that sweeter after finishing the season 7-5 and bowl eligible.

For Kentucky, the offseason once again appears long and full of reminiscing about what could’ve been. With the season concluded, the notion of progress sounds appealing, but two consecutive 5-7 seasons along with two consecutive season-ending slumps begs to differ. What is known is that Stoops has tough decisions ahead of him, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

With that, Kentucky trudges off the turf, through the tunnel and into a long, soul searching offseason with the scoreboard burning the numbers 38-24 deep into the player’s memories.