Malik Cunningham may have been in Charlotte on Wednesday as part of ACC Football Media Days, but the Louisville Cardinals quarterback had an SEC school on his mind.
As quoted on WDRB.com, Cunningham promised that U of L is ready to turn the tables on archrival Kentucky when the Governor’s Cup battle takes place on Nov. 26 at Kroger Field.
“The whole town, we have a chip on our shoulder so nobody’s counting us out,” Cunningham said. “They swear the team on the road is so much better than us and we’re going to show them they’re not this year.”
No one should be more inspired than Cunningham when UK and U of L renew their annual rage-fest. Cunningham has one loss each at QB, going 56-10 (2018), 45-13 (2019) and 52-21 (2021) as Kentucky went on a three-game dominant streak in Governors’ Cup rivalry. way
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound super-senior joins former UK-QB Jared Lorenzen as the only starting quarterbacks in the modern history (since 1994) of the Wildcats-Cardinals rivalry to lose three times. Lorenzen did have a Governor’s Cup win under his belt, however, as UK defeated No. 1 Louisville 22–17 in the 2002 season opener.
So when the Cats and Cards lose in 2022, Cunningham will try to avoid becoming the first quarterback in the modern history of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry to lose four times as a starter.
While UK’s one-sided dominance over U of L over the past three games means the Wildcats should be considered the clear favorite against the Cardinals unless we look different on the field, there are reasons to think Louisville has some hope in 2022.
The primary edge the Cats hold on the Cards from 2018 is clear: A physical Kentucky offensive line has over-mashed Louisville’s defense at the line of scrimmage. While outscoring the U of L 153-44 since 2018, UK has outgained the Cardinal 1,219 to 579 yards.
Even that staggering disparity doesn’t convey the full extent of Kentucky’s dominance. In those three games, UK has scored a combined 17 rushing touchdowns. On 10 of those 17 TD runs, Wildcats rushers entered the end zone virtually untouched by a Louisville defender.
While reeling off three straight over Louisville, Kentucky isn’t content with just one 100-yard-plus rusher per game. The Wildcats have had two players rush for more than 100 yards in each win over U of L since 2018.
However, with five offensive linemen drafted by NFL teams since 2019, Kentucky enters 2022 with more than a few years of uncertainty about the solidity of the “Big Blue Wall.”
With both tackles, UK will be breaking in three new offensive line starters. The Wildcats are also moving one of their returning regulars, Eli Cox, from guard to center.
Meanwhile, a 6-2, 305-pound ex-Arizona State nose guard, Jermaine Lolle’s arrival through the transfer portal, will hopefully give its run defense an anchor that has been sorely lacking.
Kentucky’s schedule isn’t as favorable the week before the Louisville game as it was before UK’s three previous meetings with U of L. Prior to the last three games with the Cards, the Cats faced Middle Tennessee State (2018), Tennessee at Martin (2019) and New Mexico State (2021), respectively.
This year, UK will play SEC East titan Georgia ahead of U of L. If Kentucky’s season goes as Big Blue Nation hopes, Kirby Smart’s meeting with the defending national champions will be for the SEC East crown.
Even if they weren’t, the Kentucky-Georgia rivalry featured hyper-physical, hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. Those kinds of games can leave teams with hangovers for weeks to come. It’s no accident that the Mark Stoops-coached UK team is 2-7 on the week following the game against Georgia.
The last time U of L beat the Cats, in 2017, came a week after Kentucky played at Georgia.
When he looks in the mirror, Louisville’s Cunningham can see one area in which U of L needs to improve significantly in order to play competitively against Kentucky. In his three career starts against UK, Cunningham has completed just 23 of 39 passes for 287 yards and rushed for just 151 yards combined.
Overall, Cunningham rushed for 1,031 yards and 20 scores while throwing for 2,841 yards and 20 touchdowns in the 2021 Boffo season.
However, in last year’s Governor’s Cup game, Kentucky’s Will Lewis was the best quarterback on the field, completing 14 of 18 passes and rushing for 113 yards and four touchdowns.
Levi’s will return in 2022 for another chance to “drop the L’s”. To back up his talk of closing the gap on the “team up the street,” Malik Cunningham has to be the best QB to play at Kroger Field come November. 26.