Preview: Kentucky football vs. Louisville
Click below to read more of the Herald-Leader’s and Kentucky.com’s preview coverage ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky-Louisville football game scheduled for 3 p.m. at Kroger Field in Lexington.
How the Kentucky Wildcats (6-5, 3-5 SEC) and No. 25 Louisville Cardinals (7-4, 4-4 ACC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky redshirt senior Will Levis (65.9% passing for 2,218 yards with 17 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions) will play at Kroger Field for the final time Saturday. Since transferring from Penn State before the 2021 season, Levis has gone 16-7 as UK’s starting QB. Among 21st century Kentucky quarterbacks, only Andre Woodson (19) and Terry Wilson (17) have more wins as a starter. Levis, a 6-foot-3, 232-pound product of Madison, Conn., was the Howard Schnellenberger MVP of UK’s 52-21 pasting of U of L last season. Though he completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards, Levis did his big damage with his legs, running for 113 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries. A turf-toe injury has diminished Levis’ mobility in 2022, though he looked more spry in last Saturday’s 16-6 loss to No. 1 Georgia than he had since early this season.
▪ Louisville backup Brock Domann (50.1% passing for 737 yards with two TDs vs. four picks) got the start for an injured Malik Cunningham last week and directed U of L to a 25-10 victory over then-No. 24 N.C. State. A 6-2, 227-pound junior, Domann completed 12 of 25 passes for 153 yards and ran six times for 26 yards vs. the Wolfpack. The junior-college transfer also started in place of an injured Cunningham in Louisville’s 34-17 win at Virginia, the victory that has launched U of L on a stretch of five wins in six games. Domann threw for 275 yards and a TD and and ran for 71 yards and a score in that victory. The status of Cunningham (62.7% completions for 1,552 yards with eight TDs vs. four interceptions; 561 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry, 11 TDs) is unclear.
▪ Kentucky redshirt senior Christopher Rodriguez (784 rushing yards, six TDs, 5.2 yards per carry) has enjoyed ample success in his UK career vs. Louisville. In the past two Cats-Cards games, “C-Rod” has run for a combined 246 yards on 25 carries, an average of 9.8 yards per carry. Of course, the 5-11, 224-pound McDonough, Ga., product was running behind better offensive lines in prior seasons than this year. With 3,524 career rushing yards, Rodriguez needs 350 yards to break Benny Snell’s UK all-time-rushing record (3,873).
▪ Louisville’s Jawhar Jordan (555 rushing yards, two TDs, 5.0 yards per carry) was one of the heroes of the victory over N.C. State. The 5-10, 174-pound redshirt sophomore ran for 105 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown. The No. 1 back on the U of L depth chart is Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans (525, six, 6.3). The 5-11, 213-pound junior had a big game in the Cardinals’ 48-21 upset of then-No. 10 Wake Forest, running for 106 yards and a TD on 11 carries.
▪ Kentucky true freshman Barion Brown (41 catches, 560 yards, three TDs) had a monster game in UK’s loss to Georgia last week. Going against one of the most-talented secondaries in the country, the 6-1, 166-pound Nashville product caught 10 passes for 145 yards and UK’s only touchdown. Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson (35, 470, three), a 5-11, 187-pound senior, will make his final appearance at Kroger Field. Ex-Fredrick Douglass High School star Dane Key (28, 435, team-high five TDs) has had a strong freshman year.
▪ A transfer from Central Arkansas of the FCS, Louisville’s Tyler Hudson has proven to be one of the best “portal finds” of 2022. The 6-2, 197-pound senior leads U of L in receptions (63) and receiving yards (951). The Spring, Texas, product has been productive in big games, too: He had six catches for 85 yards in the win over N.C. State and had 11 catches for 163 yards in a 31-16 loss at Clemson two weeks back. Sophomore Ahmari Higgins-Bruce, a 5-10, 163-pound product of Dillon, S.C., has caught 29 passes for 365 yards and two TDs. He played well against UK last season, catching three passes for 45 yards.
▪ Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello spoke glowingly of the potential he sees with UK’s young tight ends. Redshirt freshman Jordan Dingle (18 catches, 196yards, three TDs) has caught at least one pass in seven of the past eight games. True freshman Josh Kattus (five catches, 49 yards) has been consistently praised for his blocking and has made all of his catches over the past three games.
▪ Louisville H-back Marshon Ford (28 catches, 392 yards, two TDs) is a weapon. The 6-2, 240-pound Ballard High School product had six catches for 68 yards last season against UK. In-line TEs Francis Sherman (one catch, 13 yards) and Dez Melton (one catch, 8 yards) have not been utilized in the passing game.
▪ Kentucky redshirt sophomore Deondre Buford was unexpectedly thrust into a starting role at left tackle last week against Georgia when redshirt senior Kenneth Horsey was unable to go for an undisclosed medical reason. Against one of the best defenses in college football, Buford held up well. “You’ve got to give Deondre credit,” Mark Stoops said. “To be thrown into it 20, 30 minutes before the game, (he) really stepped up and did well.” Horsey and Auburn transfer Tashawn Manning, a super-senior and UK’s starting right guard, are both on the list of Kentucky’s Senior Day honorees.
▪ Former Scott County High School star Bryan Hudson is Louisville’s starting center. The 6-4, 301-pound redshirt junior, a transfer from Virginia Tech, is one of the anchors of an offensive line that has given up 22 sacks this season. Left guard Caleb Chandler, a 6-4, 295-pound redshirt senior, was a first-team All-ACC selection last year.
▪ A Detroit product, Kentucky junior nose guard Justin Rogers has 15 of his season total of 31 tackles in the past two games. Redshirt freshman tackle Jamarius Dinkins, a 6-5, 280-pound Columbus, Ohio, product, shared in the tackles on both third and fourth down on from the 1-yard line during UK’s successful goal-line stand vs. Georgia in the third quarter. “Definitely stepping up and getting better,” Mark Stoops said of Dinkins.
▪ Louisville senior defensive end YaYa Diaby (6.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL, four QB hurries) has been one of the big reasons that U of L entered play this week leading the FBS in QB sacks (41). If this is the year Louisville slows Kentucky’s dominance in the run game, sophomore nose tackle Dezmond Tell (20 tackles, two sacks, 4.5 TFL, a fumble recovery) will need to play strong.
▪ A UK program staple for the past five years, super-senior WLB DeAndre Square (55 tackles, three TFL, three pass breakups) has missed the past three games due to injury. His status for his final game at Kroger Field is not clear. Super-senior MLB Jacquez Jones has not played since suffering an injury in Kentucky’s loss at Ole Miss in the season’s fifth game. Super-senior SLB Jordan Wright (51 tackles, one sack, eight TFL, five QB hurries, three pass breakups, a forced fumble) will play his final game at UK. Redshirt junior rush end/OLB J.J. Weaver (37 tackles, two sacks, five TFL, three QB hurries, one forced fumble) is going through Senior Day festivities with an eye on the NFL Draft but could return if he is not happy with his draft projection.
▪ Louisville senior outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah (53 tackles, eight sacks, 13 TFL, seven QB hurries, four forced fumbles, four pass breakups, two interceptions) has a case for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. MLBs Momo Sanogo (79 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, three fumble recoveries), a transfer from Mississippi, and Monty Mongtomery (53 tackles, five sacks, 8.5 TFL, five QB hurries, three forced fumbles, two interceptions) have also had strong years.
▪ Kentucky super-senior strong safety Tyrell Ajian (31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one sack, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles) has made a lot of timely plays during his UK career. He will bow out at Kroger Field Saturday, as will super-senior cornerback Keidron Smith (36 tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions), the Ole Miss grad transfer.
▪ Louisville cornerback Kei’Trel Clark (45 tackles, four TFL, four pass breakups, one fumble recovery) is considered U of L’s top DB. He has not, however, gotten in on what has been a pick party for the Cards in 2022 (15 interceptions). Corners Quincy Riley (three picks) and Jarvis Brownlee (two) have led the fun. Ballard product Josh Minkins (45 tackles, two TFL, one sack, three pass breakups, a forced fumble) has had a good year at strong safety.
▪ Kentucky place-kicker Matt Ruffolo (12 of 20 field-goal attempts with a long of 50 yards); kickoff specialist/holder Chance Poore; injured punter Colin Goodfellow; and long snapper Cade DeGraw are prominent specialists on UK’s Senior Day list. Filling in for Goodfellow, Australian Wilson Berry averaged 46.7 yards a kick on three punts vs. Georgia.
▪ Louisville place-kicker James Turner is 19 of 21 on field goals with a long of 48. He is automatic from inside 40 yards (17 of 17). Punter Mark Vassett is averaging 44.6 yards a kick and has stopped 15 of 46 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Jawhar Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last week vs. N.C. State.
Louisville 23, Kentucky 20.