Wildcats literally run away with Governor’s Cup

Thump rival Louisville to seal nine-win season

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Given the huge holes to run through and time to throw the ball, Will Levis gladly took advantage of both strengths.

Levis rushed for career highs (click here) of four touchdowns and 113 yards, and Kentucky scored on its first four possessions to cruise past rival Louisville 52-21 on Saturday night and win the Governor’s Cup for the third consecutive time (click for full stats and play by play 26453).

Big contributions by his feet and arm helped the Wildcats’ junior quarterback outgain Louisville by himself (195-144) by halftime. With huge holes on draw plays, Levis rushed for TDs of 29 and 7 yards on their first two possessions, then followed Matt Ruffolo’s 43-yard field goal with a 5-yard score with 1:53 remaining in the second quarter.

He added a 1-yard TD early in the third to put Kentucky (9-3) up 31-7 on the way to topping his previous rushing best of 108 yards against Rutgers on Nov. 30, 2019 while at Penn State. Levis also completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards to outshine Louisville counterpart Malik Cunningham in a matchup of mobile quarterbacks.

“We called the same play four or five times,” said Levis, who matched his career high for TDs set twice this season, including last week against New Mexico State. “There were some run plays. I saw an opening, and it benefits to have a quarterback that has legs and can run.”

Cunningham rushed for 2-yard TD to tie the game at 7-apiece and completed 12 of 20 passes for 145 yards before being taken to the dressing room with 10 minutes left. Evan Conley came in and threw an 8-yard TD pass and Maurice Burkley rushed for an 7-yard TD with eight seconds left for the Cardinals (6-6).

“They had the ball most of the first half and it was just one of those nights where it’s just snowballing at that point,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “If you’re not doing something good on one side of the ball, you hope the other side picks you up. That didn’t happen tonight.”

Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 16 times for 121 yards and a 2-yard TD, Kavoisey Smoke added a 13-yard score and La’Vell Wright one from 41 yards. Wan’Dale Robinson caught nine passes for 97 yards.

Kentucky’s third consecutive victory capped its first nine-win regular season since 2018. Most important for the bowl-bound Wildcats, they claimed the Governor’s Cup for the fourth time in five meetings, including a third triumph on its rival’s home field. Kentucky has won the past three meetings by a combined margin of 153-44; the series paused last year as both teams played conference-only schedules because of the pandemic.

NOBODY’S UNDERDOG

Despite consecutive routs of Vanderbilt and NMSU, Kentucky entered as a 2 1/2-point underdog to Louisville. That didn’t sit well with Wildcats coach Mark Stoops or his team for that matter as they dominated the Cardinals a third straight time.

“I don’t get it,” he said of the spread. “It pissed me off, but I don’t know. Check the score.”

SIGNATURE MOMENT

Levis’ 22-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter included making one Louisville defender miss badly before hurdling another. That highlight-reel play set up Smoke’s TD two plays later.

THE TAKEAWAY

Kentucky took control quickly and effectively behind Levis, whose four-TD effort last week against NMSU included two turnovers. Giveaways didn’t happen as he had plenty of running room and a clean pocket to pass. The Wildcats outgained the Cardinals 511-352 and shut down of an offense that had scored 93 points the past two games.

“For that offense to be effective you have to run the football,” coach Mark Stoops said. “The physical presence has to be there, and it was there tonight.”

Louisville initially looked like it might keep pace offensively with Kentucky, but its defense could neither stop nor contain Levis when he took off. That created a long day for that unit and a deep hole for the Cardinals that Cunningham’s dual skills couldn’t overcome. That leaves plenty of corrections to make before their bowl game.

UP NEXT

Kentucky awaits its postseason destination.

Louisville awaits its postseason destination.

FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 52, Louisville 21

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky concludes the regular season with a 9-3 record. Louisville is 6-6.
  • Kentucky has won three in a row vs. Louisville and leads the series 18-15.
    • UK leads 9-5 in games played in Louisville and has won the last three meetings there.
  • Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats await their bowl assignment, which will be announced Sunday, Dec. 5.

What the Wins Means for Kentucky

  • Kentucky has won 15 consecutive non-conference games, the second-longest active streak in the nation.  Iowa has won 16 straight non-conference tilts.
  • Kentucky is 9-3 for the first time since 2018. This is the 10th time in school history – third time in the last 44 seasons – that UK has won at least nine, along with 1904, 1907, 1909, 1949, 1950, 1976, 1977, 1984 and 2018.
    • This is the first time that UK has had at least eight total victories (including bowls) three times in a four-year span since 1949-52.
  • This was Kentucky’s fourth consecutive win in the regular-season finale, longest since a four-year streak in 1898-1901.
  • This was Coach Mark Stoops’ 58th win as UK head coach. Paul “Bear” Bryant holds the school record with 60 victories.
  • Stoops is now 58-53 at Kentucky.  After two games of the 2016 season, his record was 12-26 but has gone 46-27 (.630) since.
  • Stoops extended his school record for most total games coached at UK (111).
  • Stoops is in his ninth season as head coach of the Wildcats, tying Fran Curci (1973-81) for most seasons as head coach at UK.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive, the seventh time this season that the Wildcats scored a touchdown on their first possession.
  • UK went on to score seven times on its first eight possessions, with the only time not scoring was the possession that ended the first half.
  • Kentucky had 511 yards total offense, topping the 500-yard mark for the fifth time this season.
  • Kentucky rushed for a season-high 362 yards, averaging 7.4 per attempt.
  • UK rushed for seven touchdowns, breaking the Governor’s Cup record of six set by UofL in 2006 and UK in 2019.
  • UK had a pair of 100-yard rushers (Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Will Levis) for the second time this season – also Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke vs. LSU.
  • UK scored at least 50 points in consecutive games for the first time since the first two games of the 2007 season.
  • UK has scored at 34 points in four straight games, first time to accomplish that since the first five games of the 2007 season.
  • UK has scored at least 22 points in four straight regular-season finales for the first time in school history.

Player Notes

  • Junior quarterback Will Levis received the Howard Schnellenberger Award as the Most Valuable Player of the Governor’s Cup game.
    • He completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
    • He rushed 14 times for a career-high 113 yards and a career-best four touchdowns.
    • Four rushing touchdowns ties the school record that has now been set by 12 players a total of 14 times.
    • Four rushing TDs also tied the Governor’s Cup record set by Lynn Bowden Jr. in 2019.
  • Junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 16 times for 121 yards and one touchdown.
    • It is his eighth 100-yard game of the season, tying the school record set by Artose Pinner in 2002.
    • It is his 14th 100-yard game of his career, now in sole possession of third place in school history.
    • He has 1,272 yards this season, seventh place on the UK single-season list.
    • He has 2,633 career rushing yards, moving past Derrick Locke (2,618) for seventh place on the UK career rushing list.
  • Junior running back Kavosiey Smoke rushed eight times for 31 yards and one touchdown.
    • He has 1,306 career rushing yards, 30th place on the UK career rushing list.
  • Freshman running back Lavell Wright rushed three times for 43 yards, including a 41-yard jaunt that is his first collegiate touchdown.
  • Junior wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson caught nine passes for 97 yards.
    • He has 94 catches this season, breaking James Whalen’s single-season record with 90 catches in 1999.
    • It is his sixth 100-yard game of the season, second place on the UK single-season list.
    • He has 1,164 receiving yards this year, second in UK single-season history.
  • Senior wide receiver Josh Ali caught four passes for 48 yards.
    • He has 1,447 receiving yards in his career, advancing to 11th place in UK history.
  • Sophomore linebacker D’Eryk Jackson led the Wildcats with a career-high eight tackles.
  • Sophomore linebacker J.J. Weaver nabbed his second interception of the season. He also had a crucial pickoff in the win over Florida.
  • Senior defensive end Josh Paschal had tackles, including a nine-yard quarterback sack.
    • It is eighth consecutive game with a tackle for loss.
    • He has 37 tackles for loss in his career.
  • Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo has made 52 extra points this year, breaking the school record of 51 set by Lones Seiber in 2007.
  • Game captains today were Josh Paschal, Will Levis, Marquan McCall and Luke Fortner.

 

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