Matchups that can give Kentucky the edge over Louisville
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Matchups that can give Kentucky the edge over Louisville

Adam Luckettabout 2 months

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Article written by:Adam LuckettAdam Luckett

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Wan'Dale-Robinson-NMS-64697
Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

The college football season officially wraps up on Saturday when Kentucky takes on Louisville at Cardinal Stadium.

Despite a strong season, the Wildcats find themselves as small underdogs on the road. Behind dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham, the Cardinals have played some strong football over the last month.

However, Kentucky appears to have some on-paper advantages heading into the Governor’s Cup. KSR has the three that will give the Wildcats a third straight victory in the rivalry.

Wan’Dale Robinson vs. Louisville secondary

Throughout the season, Louisville cornerback Kei’Trel Clark was turning into one of the top cover players in college football. The Liberty transfer has recorded 19 pass breakups and four interceptions over the last two years, but the 5-10 cornerback was lost for the season on Halloween weekend.

Louisville’s defense has survived over the last three weeks, but the unit faced three passing offenses that ranked 80th or worse in yards per attempt with both Clemson and Syracuse ranking in the bottom 20.

Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson will present a totally different challenge.

The junior has been targeted 122 times in 11 games by quarterback Will Levis with 85 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns. With a 69.7 percent catch rate and 50.8 percent receiving success rate, Robinson will present big challenges for the Louisville secondary.

Offensive coordinator Liam Coen does a great job of utilizing the All-American candidate with multiple formations and creating obvious matchups for the Wildcats to take advantage of. Since being corralled by Georgia, the Nebraska transfer and former top-100 recruit has been on a tear.

In three November games, Robinson has 27 receptions for 422 yards and two touchdowns. Levis is making strides, and Robinson has been the biggest benefactor. Louisville is getting some ball production from cornerbacks Chandler Jones and Greedy Vance, but without Clark, the Cardinals do not have a safety blanket in the secondary.

If Kentucky gets Robinson to 10-plus receptions on 15-plus targets it likely means the offense is moving the chains and scoring points. The multi-dimensional wideout appears to be the best matchup against Louisville for Kentucky.

Big play offense vs. big play defense

Louisville once again has a top-20 yards per play offense under Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals are averaging 32.9 points per game, and Malik Cunningham has accounted for 36 total touchdowns.

However, UofL is not very efficient on offense.

Cunningham has a passing success rate of 47 percent, and neither running back has a rushing success rate over 43 percent. The Cardinals fall behind the chains more times than not when Cunningham is not toting the rock. However, the big plays allow them to score points.

Cunningham has 23 completions over 25-plus yards and 10 rushes of 20-plus yards. Wideouts Tyler Harrell, Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, and Jordan Watkins are all averaging over 15 yards per catch.

Malik Cunningham - Louisville
Malik Cunningham creates big plays through the air and on the ground. (Photo courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Satterfield’s offense can strike for six at any moment. However, Kentucky’s defense is built to stop the big play.

Since Brad White arrived in 2018, the Wildcats have been excellent in limiting explosives. The Wildcats rank 16th nationally in 20-plus yard plays allowed, and only Tennessee had a play go for more than 50 yards.

If Kentucky can keep that intact against Louisville, it should be very hard for the home favorite to score consistently. The Cardinals are not built to put together multiple long, sustained touchdown drives in a game.

Limiting explosives could just make it somewhat difficult for Louisville to consistently score points over four quarters.

The winner of this matchup will have a significant advantage on this side of the ball.

Chris Rodriguez Jr. vs. Louisville run defense

Kentucky’s passing offense has made some legitimate strides this year, but the Wildcats still heavily lean on the ground game under new-play caller Liam Coen.

Kentucky is running the ball 36.4 times per game with 29 pass attempts. The Wildcats have achieved balance this season, but the unit is at its best when getting production from redshirt junior tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr.

The Metro Atlanta native has rushed for 1,151 yards this season with seven touchdowns on 189 attempts. Rodriguez has an elite 54 percent success rate on 17.2 rushes per game, and he’ll enter Saturday with a hot hand. Rodriguez has rushed for over 100 yards in three consecutive games as he seems to be rounding into form to close the year.

When digging deeper, Kentucky is at their best when Rodriguez is efficient and provides some chunk runs. The tailback has averaged over five yards per rush in seven games this season, and the Wildcats have yet to lose one of those contests. When that happens, the offense is scoring 35.4 points per game. The effectiveness of the rushing attack helps open up passing lanes for Will Levis.

Meanwhile, Louisville seems to be finding itself on defense. Since October, Bryan Brown’s defense is giving up just 118.1 yards per game on the ground, and only Duke has rushed for more than five yards per rush.

Entering the matchup, Kentucky will have the best offensive line that Louisville has seen all season and the first truly balanced offense since the Wake Forest game on Oct. 2. The Cardinals have been much improved in their run fits, and the scheme often puts an extra defender in the box thanks to some single-high coverage looks. A strength vs. strength matchup will occur when Kentucky attempts to establish the run.

Similar to the Tennessee game, the Wildcats will be able to lean on the Louisville front and stay ahead of the chains, but the Vols limited chunk plays on the ground. If Louisville can do the same, the Cardinals will have a great chance at preventing scoring possessions.

If Rodriguez gets rolling, there will be very little that Louisville can do to stop the Kentucky offense. The winner of this matchup will control the game when the Wildcats have the football.

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2022-01-20