More Questions Than Answers Following Wildcats' Opener
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky has a quarterback in Maxwell Smith. That defensive line seen as a strength coming into this season? Well, the Wildcats have plenty of work to do.
Smith threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, but the Wildcats couldn't get off the field defensively as No. 25 Louisville beat Kentucky 32-14 in the season opener in taking the Governor's Cup for a second straight year.
The Wildcats allowed Louisville four touchdown drives of 71 yards or longer, including a 99-yarder to open the game.
"We got some things to work on, but we're better than that," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We have to make Kentucky better before we think about Kent State."
Kentucky didn't do much offensively to help rest the defense either.
The Wildcats finished with 373 yards total offense with Smith throwing passes to 11 different receivers and finishing with a stinger in his right, throwing elbow he had wrapped in ice after the game. But they stayed on the field only 23 minutes, 39 seconds and lost two fumbles near the goal line, including one at the Lousiville 3.
"We beat ourselves," Wildcats receiver La'Rod King said. "We are much better than this. Saying this is the first game is a bunch of bull in my opinion. First game ... get the jitters. We prepared way too hard and way better than we showed out here today."
Teddy Bridgewater was 19 of 21 for 232 yards, and he completed passes to nine different Cardinals. Jeremy Wright ran for 105 yards and three touchdowns, while Senorise Perry ran for 108 yards and his own 47-yard TD. The Cardinals' offensive line had heard all the talk about Kentucky's strong defensive line and rolled up 466 yards.
"We took it personal," Louisville center Mario Benavides said. "I know what kind of players those guys are on the inside. They're good players, experienced guys. So it's kind of nice to have all the pressure put on you as an offensive line and to actually come out and perform and execute."
Kentucky defensive end Collins Ukwu said the Cardinals were better and had a good plan against the Wildcats.
"We should have stopped them," Ukwu said. "We should have been better defensively."
Not even special teams could help the Wildcats.
Trailing 22-7 at halftime, Phillips opened with an onside kick his Wildcats recovered. The drive bogged down, and Craig McIntosh missed a 42-yard field goal. A fake punt attempt later in the quarter on fourth-and-14 from the Wildcats 25 came up well short when Landon Foster was tackled for a loss of 2 yards.
Louisville took home the bragging rights of beating its in-state rival along with the Governor's Cup. Toss onto that the defending co-Big East champ beating a Southeastern Conference team to boot.
"I will say this: We still have a lot to learn and to improve upon," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "But, just seeing a Big East team beat an SEC team speaks volumes."
The Wildcats' biggest problem was not matching the Cardinals' intensity early and then having to play from behind even when they seemed to be showing some gaining some footing.
But other than a 75-yard scoring drive that briefly brought Kentucky within 8-7 in the first quarter, the Wildcats' offense found little room against a defense that sacked Smith twice and hit him repeatedly. Smith said the Wildcats can only get better.
"Maybe this was a smack in the face, we all need to get better," Smith said. "I know our defense is going to get better."
Kentucky started promisingly, driving 34 yards to Louisville's 41 before the drive stalled on consecutive passes that started slowly and gained little yardage. The Wildcats then forced the Cardinals to start from their 1 when Kai Dominguez fumbled a line-drive punt after being hit by Martarvius Neloms.
After Bridgewater and Wright rallied the Cardinals from that initial setback, they made it 15-7 on Perry's run and 22-7 on Wright's 14-yarder. Freshman John Wallace added a 22-yard field and Wright capped it with another 1-yard run.
King caught a 5-yard TD pass from Smith in the third quarter to cut the lead, but the tone had been set and the Wildcats just tried to stay within sight of a Louisville team intent on distancing itself.