LOUISVILLE — About midway through the third quarter of the annual blood-letting between Kentucky and Louisville, the seats behind the U of L sideline was a sea of red. What you’d expect at a game like that in Cardinal Stadium, right?
Problem: Much of the red was empty seats. The fans (and fannies) that had been parked in them when the game began were long gone and so were the chances their team would win. In fact, those had dissolved before halftime.
That’s how dominant the Wildcats were in their third straight victory over their arch-rival, rolling 52-21. That makes 15 consecutive non-conference wins for Kentucky, second-longest streak in the nation (Iowa).
And the Cats did it as three-point underdogs. The folks in Las Vegas who generally predict such things with uncanny accuracy couldn’t have been more mistaken.
“The minute I knew we were underdogs, I knew we were going to win this game,” said senior center Luke Fortner. “We just come to play when we’re underdogs. We really do.”
His coach didn’t understand it. “I don’t get it, but I don’t care,” said Mark Stoops. “Take a look at the score.”
Via Twitter, which often times can lack tone and context, linebacker DeAndre Square was succinct. “Well, well,” he tweeted. “So much for being an underdog.”
One of his teammates was more direct. “We knew it was bull,” said Wan’Dale Robinson, the record-breaker. It was Robinson who caught nine passes for 97 yards, giving him a season total of 94 grabs and a new school standard. Former All-America tight end James Whalen hauled in 90 back in the Air Raid days of 1999.
Quarterback Will Levis not only delivered the ball to Robinson, he delivered himself to the end zone a school record-tying four times, flashing “Ls down” with every score.
It was all part of a festival of goodness for the Wildcats, who scored seven times in their first eight possessions, the only empty one coming at the end of the first half when they were more than happy to head for the locker room with a 24-7 advantage. The game was over at that point; it didn’t take long for the Louisville faithful to decide they had something better to do on a chilly Saturday night.
U of L had the ball first to open the second half; the Cards managed one first down before the UK defense stiffened, forcing a pair of incomplete passes by the ever-dangerous Malik Cunningham. The Kentucky defense had as much fun as did the offense.
“They had the same confidence they had early in the season,” said coordinator Brad White. “There was a joy to being out there and that was fun to see.”
It was, indeed, a joyful night for the Wildcats, proud owners once again of nine regular-season victories for just the third time in 44 seasons of playing Big Boy college football. That’s the SEC, friends.
“People are out of their minds if the don’t understand what you go through in this league,” Stoops said.
Of course, this was not an SEC contest; rather, it was a matchup with a team that came in playing its best football of the season, including a victory over Duke that saw the Cards top the 60-point threshold. Against UK’s first-team defense, they managed to find the end zone exactly once. That’s why the Governor’s Cup is back in Lexington. residing in the lobby trophy case at the football facility.
“The trophy means a lot,” Stoops said. “We have a place for it for a reason. It looks good in there.”
Most Wildcat football fans believe Stoops looks good in Kentucky blue; the questions surrounding his employment future are obvious, given the handful of plum coaching jobs that are open right now. Stoops took a shot at putting their fears to rest.
“I absolutely plan on being here,” he said. “I’m going to work tomorrow. I’m on my way home. My butt’s going to get in bed and I’m going to be at my office tomorrow and I’m going to hit the pavement this week to get us some players.”
The ones he has now are pretty happy. They’re going to another bowl game, someplace where it’s warm. And they’ll carry with them memories of still another win over the team they love to beat.