In four (4) hours, the quest to retrieve the Governor’s Cup from the grips of “little brother” begins but man will it be tough. Louisville is touting, arguably, a potential legit Heisman contender in Teddy Bridgewater and he has a ton of targets roaming the sidelines and cutting across the middle. But with all they have at QB and WR, they are that deficient at RB, though they have a literal stable of them. Juxtapose that with Kentucky who has a new coaching staff and system while playing a two QB system and things get interesting. Add to that the insanity that comes from a week of fan build up and trash talking and the situation becomes volatile. Cbssports.com has a bit of a preview of what’s to come.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is making the most of his bevy of receivers, and each week reveals how deep No. 7 Louisville is at the position.
The Heisman Trophy candidate already had veterans DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers and tight end Ryan Hubbell to throw to, but Bridgewater has blended junior Kai De La Cruz and transfers Robert Clark and Gerald Christian into the mix.
Bridgewater has thrown for 752 yards, an FBS-best nine touchdowns and a 76.7 percent completion rate in leading the Cardinals’ 2-0 start. Louisville’s newest contributors have combined for four TDs and 280 yards.
“I felt like in the spring that we were helping and contributing and whatever happens in practice would transfer to the game,” said Christian, who caught five passes for 74 yards including an 11-yard touchdown in last Saturday’s 44-7 win over Eastern Kentucky.
“Not saying I was going to catch three touchdowns, but I felt like I would be able to contribute, being on the field.”
Clark, Christian’s friend since childhood who transferred with him from Florida, certainly thought the tight end could have a big game after his own debut in a season-opening 49-7 win against Ohio.
The 5-foot-9 junior had four receptions for 43 yards including a 25-yarder for his first career TD. Clark added 24 yards on four catches against EKU and is just one reception behind team co-leaders Parker and Copeland.
Most important to Bridgewater is having the targets just where they’re designed to be.
“Those guys just do a great job of playing to detail,” he said. “We have pictures in our books of how the routes are supposed to look, but you turn on the tape and those guys have run their routes just like the drawings.”
Despite two impressive performances statistically, Bridgewater and his receivers note that the Cardinals have room to grow. He lamented not getting a touchdown for Rogers against EKU and took responsibility for some incompletions despite hitting 23 of 32 attempts for 397 yards.
“He’s so fast and so patient,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “He doesn’t hurry anything. He plays fast without being in a hurry, if that makes sense. He’s very cool, and he’s got a very live arm and he can make any throw. You could just see the confidence in him the more he’s played.”
The Wildcats beat Miami of Ohio 41-7 at home last Saturday, and this matchup begins a four-game stretch against ranked teams including contests against No. 18 Florida, at No. 13 South Carolina and a visit from top-ranked Alabama.
Kentucky running back Jonathan George believes playing the school’s biggest rival is a good way to begin.
“Not saying I don’t realize that the schedule is not going to get any easier from here on out, but we’re just moving week by week and going week by week,” George said. “Right now, we’re just going to focus on Louisville and focus on preparing for those guys because they do have a good ball team.”
Speaking of the two QB system that Mark Stoops and Co. ran to perfection last week against Miami (OH). This new up-tempo offense Neal Brown employs has everyone from Vince Marrow to both QB’s head spinning. Literally. Ok, that was a bit of hyperbole but you get the idea. But spinning or not, this looks and feel right.
Like ducklings, they line up behind Vince Marrow waiting for him to yell their names.
“All I hear is on the headset: ‘Vince, Jalen in’ or ‘Vince, Max in.’ That’s all I hear,” said Marrow, the Kentucky tight ends coach and the official doorman for the Cats’ revolving door on offense.
Marrow is in charge of rotating in wide receivers, tight ends and — in this crazy, up-tempo offense — even quarterbacks.
In Kentucky’s 41-7 win over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday, which included 74 plays and 675 yards of total offense, Marrow got tired just thinking about it.
He lost track of how many times offensive coordinator Neal Brown called for a new quarterback to go in.
“You’ve really got to be in tune when you’re swapping in two quarterbacks, because when Neal calls their name, you’ve got to get them in there,” Marrow said. “It means it’s a very specific play.”
In all, Marrow ran sophomores Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow in and out 13 times in the first half. It got a little less hectic in the second half, with Whitlow starting the first series and the two alternating series from there.
And while it seems exhausting for the doorman, it seems to reinvigorate the offense each time.
“It doesn’t matter which one’s in there, our offense seems pretty fired up each time one of them comes in because they feel like there are plays to be made,” Marrow said.
And perhaps more importantly — as Kentucky prepares to take on No. 7 Louisville, the first of four straight ranked opponents — the two-man system has the potential to confound defenses.
“Having two quarterbacks can create some issues for you if you don’t get aligned,” Cardinals Coach Charlie Strong said this week.
“There was not a whole lot of scientific reason that went into when I was rolling them in and when I was rolling them out,” Brown said. “Pretty much went on gut instinct on that. And that’s probably the way it’ll be for a while.”
And while the UK offensive coordinator admitted that it’s more difficult on him (and Marrow), Brown thinks it helps give UK an edge.
“I liked it. I liked it,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Neal had a great feel for it, and it may be what the quarterbacks needed as well. Just eliminate a little bit of pressure from them, and they both have their strengths, like we said, and our offense has some good packages with both of them.”
It hasn’t been more difficult on the other players. Center Jon Toth said he barely notices who’s back there until he looks between his legs and hears the voice.
Every time Marrow called his name and he swapped out with Smith, Whitlow said he could see the defense respond.
“You can kind of tell that they’re on their heels, because they don’t know what to expect sometimes,” said Whitlow, whose 36 snaps on Saturday turned into 261 yards of offense, including the sophomore’s 9-yard rushing touchdown to open the game.
“When I come out there, they expect me to run the ball probably. Then we fake the run and throw the pass and they’re like, ‘Oh, man.’ So it’s hard to adjust to having two different quarterbacks, two different styles.”
Whitlow passed 12 times, completing 10 of those for 103 yards. He ran seven times for 48 yards.
Smith, whose 38 snaps led to 414 yards and four touchdowns (three passing and a 5-yard touchdown run for Sanders in the second quarter), said it’s a system that makes sense for UK right now.