Mark Story: In 2022, the football war between Kentucky and Louisville started early | Sports

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Malik Cunningham might have been in Charlotte, NC on Wednesday as part of the ACC Football Media Days, but the Louisville Cardinals quarterback had an SEC school in mind.

As quoted on, Cunningham vowed that U of L is ready to turn the tables on arch-rivals Kentucky when the Governor’s Cup fight takes place at Kroger Field on November 26.

“The whole town, we have a chip on our shoulders so nobody counts us out,” Cunningham said. “They swear that the team is so much better than us on the road and we will show that this year they are not.”

Nobody should have more motivation as the UK and U of L renew their annual Grudge Fest than Cunningham. While Kentucky has come from a dominant three-game stretch in the Governor’s Cup rivalry, winning 56-10 (2018), 45-13 (2019) and 52-21 (2021), Cunningham has been the losing starter in each of them at QB the routes.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound super senior, along with former Britain QB Jared Lorenzen, is the only starting quarterback in modern history (since 1994) of the Wildcats-Cardinals rivalry to have lost three times. However, Lorenzen also had a Governor’s Cup win to his credit as he led UK to a 22-17 win over No. 17 Louisville in the 2002 season opener.

So when the Cats and Cards strike in 2022, Cunningham will be looking to avoid becoming the first quarterback in the modern history of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry to lose four times as a starter.

Although Britain’s lopsided U of L dominance in the last three games means the Wildcats should be viewed as firm favorites against the Cardinals until we see otherwise on the field, there’s some reason to believe Louisville 2022 has some hope could have.

The primary advantage the Cats have held over the Cards since 2018 was obvious: Kentucky’s physical offensive lines crushed Louisville’s overwhelmed defense at the line of scrimmage. While UK has surpassed U of L 153-44 since 2018, it has outscored the Cardinals by 1,219 at 579 yards.

Even this startling discrepancy does not reflect the full extent of Kentucky’s dominance. In those three games, UK totaled 17 rushing touchdowns. On 10 of those 17 TD runs, the Wildcats rusher literally walked into the end zone without ever being touched by a Louisville defender.

In its three consecutive blowouts over Louisville, Kentucky hasn’t settled for just one 100-yard-plus rusher in each game. The Wildcats have had two players down for 100+ yards in each of their wins over U of L since 2018.

After drafting five offensive linemen from NFL teams since 2019, Kentucky enters 2022 with more uncertainty about the strength of the “Big Blue Wall” than it has in years.

UK will bring in three new starters on the offensive line, including both tackles. The Wildcats are also moving one of their returning regulars, Eli Cox, from guard to center.

Meanwhile, U of L is hoping the arrival via the transfer portal of Jermayne Lole, Arizona State’s 6-2, 305-pound nose guard, will give his running defense an anchor that has been sorely lacking.

Kentucky’s schedule in the week leading up to the Louisville game is not as favorable as it was prior to Britain’s three previous encounters with U of L. Prior to the last three games with the cards, the Cats faced Middle Tennessee State (2018), Tennessee at Martin (2019) and State of New Mexico (2021).

This year, Britain plays SEC East titans Georgia before the U of L. If the Kentucky season goes as the Big Blue Nation hopes, this meeting with Kirby Smarts will be the defending SEC East crown champion.

Even when this isn’t the case, Kentucky-Georgia competitions tend to feature hyperphysical hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. These types of games can leave a team with a hangover the following week. It is probably no coincidence that the British teams coached by Mark Stoops are 7-2 against Georgia in the week following their games.

The last time U of L defeated the Cats was in 2017, a week after Kentucky played Georgia.

Looking in the mirror, Louisville’s Cunningham can see an area where U of L needs significant improvement to be competitive against Kentucky. In his three career starts against Great Britain, Cunningham completed just 23 of 39 passes for 287 yards and rushed just 151 yards in total.

Overall, Cunningham had a boffo season in 2021, throwing for 2,841 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,031 yards and 20 points.

However, in last year’s Governor’s Cup battle, Kentucky’s Will Levis was the best quarterback on the field, completing 14 of 18 passes and rushing for 113 yards and four touchdowns.

Levis will be back for another chance to film L’s down in 2022. To back up his talk of closing the gap on “the team up the street,” Malik Cunningham needs to be the best QB playing at Kroger Field on Nov. 11. 26

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