Wildcats overpowered Cards, Satterfield says after blowout

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Defense, or more accurately a lack of it, has been Louisville's Achilles heel all season and nothing changed Saturday afternoon at cold and rainy Kroger Field in Lexington.

It should surprise no one who has watched the Cardinals (7-5) struggle to stop opposing offenses that they had no answer for Kentucky's powerful running attack as the Wildcats (7-5) steamrolled to a punishing 45-13 win, its third in the Governor's Cup series in the past four years.

UofL's defensive line and linebackers were manhandled by UK, which racked up a school single-game record of 517 yards rushing, most of them by quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. The Cards stayed close for a half, but the second half was a circus of ineffective blocks and missed tackles that resulted in one big play after another for the Wildcats.

"They're a bigger, stronger football team than we are," UofL coach Scott Satterfield said. "That's the bottom line. It was easy for anyone who watched that game to see. O-line and D-line, they controlled the game, and that was the big difference. We just got whipped up front. That's it in a nutshell.

"They've got some good skill, they blocked us up front and then we didn't make a tackle. Same thing on the other side of the ball; they were getting penetration, we were losing yardage, giving up some sacks. Our skilled kids can hang in there, but we've got to get a lot stronger."

As for Bowden, the Cards haven't seen a fast, elusive quarterback like him since Lamar Jackson was doing the same thing for them. Bowden ran for 284 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries, giving him 1,205 on the season. His TDs came on runs of six, 60, 46 and 32 yards.

Kentucky's rushing attack was so effective, averaging 12.4 yards per play, that Bowden didn't need to throw. He attempted just two passes, a four-yard completion late in the second quarter and an incompletion on a little late razzle-dazzle.

Bowden's performance earned him the Howard L. Schnellenberger Award as the game's outstanding player presented by the Louisville Sports Commission.

When he wasn't carrying the ball himself, he could hand it off to one of his running backs, stand back and watch more good things happen. Chris Rodriquez Jr. rushed for 125 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown, and Kavosiey Smoke contributed a 71-yard score.

"I felt like we'd have a hard time tackling No. 1 (Bowden), and their offensive line was better than I saw on film," Satterfield said. "We knew we were going to have to tackle a whole lot better than we did against Syracuse and we didn't. You've got to get them down or that's what happens."

UK's defense, meanwhile, put the clamps on UofL's explosive attack, holding the Cards to just 318 yards, their second-lowest total of the season, behind only the 263 yards in a 45-10 loss to Clemson. That was also the only other time this year that they had failed to score at least 17 points; they came into the game averaging 34.5 ppg.

Still, running back Javian Hawkins managed to have another good day, gaining 142 yards on 22 carries to boost his season total to 1,420, second only to Howard Stevens' 1,429 (1971) among running backs in the UofL record book.

Quarterback Micale Cunningham was battling a stomach virus and finally had to leave the game late in the third quarter, giving way to Even Conley. But UK held a commanding 31-13 lead by that point.

"Micale just ran out of juice," Satterfield said. "It's next guy up and we don't have a next guy up at quarterback. We practiced Tutu (Atwell) at quarterback Friday. No excuses, that's what we've got, we have to go out and make the most of it."

Cunningham and Atwell combined for a 67-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-10 play on the opening series and Hawkins gave the Cards some momentum and hope going into halftime with a 56-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the second quarter.

That narrowed UofL's deficit to 17-13, but the second half was all Kentucky. Bowden broke a 60-yard TD run on the second play of the third period and the rout was on as the Wildcats went on to outscore the losers 28-0 in the second half.

The Cards cost themselves a chance to possibly have a halftime lead with numerous penalties in the first half.

"Holding, false start, unsportsmanlike, things that were self-inflicted wounds you can't have," Satterfield said. "Offensively, just shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties and stuff, and we're not good enough to overcome those."

Unlike 2018, when UK ended UofL's season with a 56-10 drubbing, this time the Cards have a bowl game to look forward to and a chance to end the year on a positive note.

"That's the exciting thing," Satterfield said. "We've got an opportunity to play another game. I told the guys we've got to learn from this so we don't have it happen anymore. We've got to remember moments like this to work hard in the off season and really come back strong next year. We've got a lot of work to do between now and this time next year."

The Cards will find out their bowl destination at the end of next week after all the conference championship games have been played. In the ACC, Atlantic Division champion Clemson will face Virginia, the Coastal champ.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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