Defending the Cup

UK senior tailback Tony Dixon flips the ball back as he scores against Louisville on Sunday, Aug. 31. Photo by Brad Luttrell

UK, most notably the defense, had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Freshman wide receiver Matt Roark, who wasn’t even listed on the pre-game roster, blocked a field goal in the first quarter to stifle an early Louisville drive. Two series later, UK marched all the way down the field to the 3-yard line before settling on a field goal. From that point on, the Cats never looked back.

“We played a big game,” Kelley said. “We played our hearts out on the field.”

By the end of the second quarter, the Cats’ defense was in full control when senior defensive tackle and Louisville native Myron Pryor slammed into Louisville running back Bilal Powell, causing a fumble that junior safety Ashton Cobb grabbed off a bounce and ran 28 yards into the end zone. Louisville was held to 104 yards of total offense in the first half, while Cardinals’ quarterback Hunter Cantwell had only 53 passing yards.

From there, things never got any easier for the Cardinals. UK picked Cantwell off three times and Pyror scooped a fumble and rumbled 72 yards for UK’s final touchdown. U of L’s only points came from a safety sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline took when he was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone. Otherwise, the Cats would have posted their first shutout of Louisville since 1924.

Instead, UK settled for another streak: It was the first time the Cats’ defense has held an opponent without an offensive score since blanking Vanderbilt 25-0 in 1996.

“We’re light-years ahead of where we were in the past,” junior linebacker Micah Johnson said. “We turned the corner. I think if we can continue to come in and work hard we can be the focal point of this team.”

Despite UK’s defensive dominance, questions still linger for the offense. In years past, the winning team’s leading rusher has out-rushed the entire losing team. In a game where both defenses played well — UK was held to only one offensive touchdown — that wasn’t the case.

Louisville’s Victor Anderson led all running backs with 31 yards and UK was led by senior Tony Dixon with 27 yards.

“They played the run hard,” said sophomore running back Derrick Locke, who finished with 25 yards rushing.

“They were stacking (in the box). Whatever game plan they had, it was working.”

Hartline, making his much-anticipated debut in place of former quarterback Andre Woodson, didn’t put up spectacular numbers, but he didn’t commit a single turnover in his first collegiate start. He finished 16-of-31 for 147 yards and managed the game well, according to Brooks.

Hartline and the UK offense ended up with only 210 yards of total offense, but that was all it needed.

“I had a lot of doubts and questions,” Brooks said. “And by and large they responded as well as I could have expected in this environment.”