“Statement Game.” Now, there’s a term that gets tossed around a lot in college football. The Louisville Cardinals are OK if you want to say they made a “statement” beating Kentucky 32-14 Sunday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
UofL safety Hakeem Smith says the statement he thought the Cardinals made Sunday was that Louisville deserves its Top 25 ranking. This particular chip of the shoulder-variety is of a different weight and class than the one UofL came armed with in last year’s opener. In 2011, Louisville was picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East and nearly lived down to expectations with some bewildering home losses against Florida International and Marshall. Freshman Teddy Bridgewater soon emerged as the blue-chip quarterback he was touted as and UofL rode a wave into a bowl game (a 31-24 loss to NC State in the Belk Bowl).
This season, at least early on, the theme from the inside of the Cardinal camp is “let’s prove everyone wrong again.” This time, it’s for the naysayers who believe UofL isn’t fit for that all-important ranking. Tired as it is, it’s that kind of bond which can bring a little boost to an already pretty good team.
On the flip side, the Kentucky Wildcats failed to change too many minds about what could be another season filled with early low expectations that will eventually give way to apathy in the fan base.
UK head coach Joker Phillips knows there are bad vibes in the Big Blue Nation. If there was any ray of hope from Sunday’s game, maybe it’s the fact quarterback Maxwell Smith appeared to validate Phillips’ choice of starting him over Morgan Newton. An efficient 35-20 passing for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns solidified his role and raised questions about Louisville’s defensive secondary.
Coach Charlie Strong appeared to do his old friend Joker a favor and lifted Bridgewater in the third quarter after the sophomore’s 232 yards passing. Bridgewater only failed to complete 2 of his 21 pass attempts.
The SEC coaches probably won’t do any favors for Phillips as the season progresses, but first things first. UK needs to show improvement with back-to-back home games against Kent State and Western Kentucky. The SEC portion of the schedule for Kentucky begins in Gainesville against Florida. Three straight poor performances (or worse, three straight losses) and there’s a chance Clint Eastwood could never make the time to yell at all the empty seats that will fill Commonwealth Stadium for the SEC home opener against South Carolina on September 29th.
UofL hosts Missouri State Saturday. The Bears dropped their season debut 51-9 to #22 Kansas State. Fair to say Missouri State has some weaknesses the Louisville offense can exploit.
Charlie Strong sits atop the throne of college football in the state for now while Joker Phillips feels his seat getting hotter than ever.
One UK graduate and longtime Kentucky fan asked me, “Is it bad that I’m hoping UK loses so we might get a new coach?” That question was asked in the 2nd quarter.
Photo: courtesy UofLSports.com