It would be difficult to describe Kentucky football’s 2022 season as anything but a disappointment, but there was at least one bright spot at the end.
Mark Stoops’ Wildcats extended their winning streak against archrival Louisville to four games with a 26-13 victory to retain possession of the Governor’s Cup. Kentucky had only won four in a row since the series restarted in 1995 one other time. UK had won the previous three games in the series by a combined 153-44 score.
Kentucky was far from perfect in the game, but the Wildcats never trailed.
A five-play, 86-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard pass from Will Levis to Dane Key put Kentucky on the board with 7:46 left in the first quarter. UK’s next two drives ended in field goals to stretch the lead to 13-0.
One of Louisville’s few offensive bright spots came on its final drive of the first half with a 6-yard touchdown run from quarterback Malik Cunningham, the Cardinals’ normal starter who came off the bench Saturday while working his way back from an injury. Kentucky quickly quieted any fears of a comeback by forcing a Louisville three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter.
The Wildcats added another Matt Ruffolo field goal to regain momentum. Two plays later, sophomore linebacker Trevin Wallace then intercepted a Cunningham pass at the Louisville 37-yard line and returned it 19 yards to give his offense another short field. This time the Kentucky offense was able to overcome its red zone struggles as Levis hit Barion Brown for a 3-yard touchdown on a fade route into the corner of the end zone for a 23-7 advantage.
Ruffolo improved to 4-for-4 on field goals on the next drive, converting a 40-yard kick to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 26-7. Louisville kept things interesting with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 27-yard pass from Brock Domann to Tyler Hudson but was stopped short on a two-point conversion attempt to keep the margin at 13.
Kentucky safety Jordan Lovett iced the win with an interception on Louisville’s final drive.
When Wallace grabbed his second interception of the season midway through the third quarter, there was real reason to wonder if Kentucky could convert that opportunity into a touchdown. Earlier in the game, the defense had provided the offense the ball at the Louisville 6-yard line after a J.J. Weaver strip sack and fumble recovery and the offense actually lost 5 yards on the ensuing drive. This time however, the season-long red zone struggles were not apparent. Chris Rodriguez gained 12 yards on the first carry of the drive. Two plays later, Levis hit Brown for his second passing touchdown of the game.
MVP: J.J. Weaver
Weaver turned some heads early in the week by electing to participate in senior day despite being listed as a junior on UK’s roster. On Tuesday, he confirmed to reporters he is considering entering the NFL draft but said no final decisions have been made. If Saturday was Weaver’s last game in Kroger Field, the former Moore High School star went out on a high note with a team-high tying seven tackles to go with one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup. Weaver’s UK career has been limited by injuries, but he has finally looked fully healthy the last few weeks after working back from an elbow injury.
Much of the focus entering the game centered on whether Kentucky’s porous offensive line could hold up against a Louisville pass rush that led the country in sacks. Instead, Kentucky actually recorded more sacks (four) than Louisville (two). This was a far cry from a year ago when Levis rushed for 113 yards and a school-record four touchdowns against Louisville, but he held up well enough to help lead Kentucky to the win.