University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to win the Heisman trophy. He’s accumulated more than 3300 yards passing, with 31 TDs and 1500 yards rushing with an additional 21 TDs on the ground. On Saturday, November 26, Jackson threw for 281 yards and 2 TDs and ran for 171 yards another 2 TDs. A spectacular performance from the best player in college football. And it wasn’t enough to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats.
For the first time since 2010, the Wildcats defeated the Cardinals in the annual battle for the Governor’s Cup. Despite being a 27 point underdog, Kentucky beat Louisville 41-38 in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in front of more than 55,000 people. Stephen Johnson, who was named SEC Player of the Week for his efforts, threw for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for another 83 yards. In a game where the Cats needed Johnson at his best, he was.
Any time you can defeat your rival, it’s a big deal. Despite athletic success in head to head matchups across the board, the football rivalry had been decidedly one sided. The football Cards have had much better run lately, with BCS wins over Wake Forrest in the Orange Bowl and Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Even this season, they handed college football stalwart Florida State it’s worse loss ever. Looking at the gridiron success, it was hard to argue that the Cardinals football program was better.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
When Bobby Petrino returned to lead the Cardinals, many L1C4 fans believed that Louisville would never again lose to Kentucky in football. And for those True Blue fans in the city of Louisville, that mantra was repeated. A lot. Every Kentucky victory or any notice of improvement was derided by the fact that the Cats would never beat the Cardinals. The gap between the programs was too wide. Mark Stoops couldn’t outcoach Petrino. The players Kentucky was getting couldn’t actually compete with the guys in red and black. When you look closer, however, things weren’t exactly as Card Nation would have you believe.
In 2015, the Cats jumped out to a 21-0 lead, only to lose 38-24. Losing a three score lead is disappointing, but a 14 point loss isn’t exactly an indication that the programs were worlds apart. In 2014, the Cards won a shootout 44-40. 4 point victory. Again, not an indication that the programs were far apart. The difference in those two games, games that the Cats had at least a two score lead in, was that Louisville had the most dominant player on the field. In 2014 it was Devante Parker (6 catches for 180 yards and 3 TDs). In 2015 it was Lamar Jackson (17 carries for 186 yards and 2 TDs with another passing TD). Over the past few seasons,Cats haven’t had a performance to offset that one great UL player’s performance.
Enter Stephen Johnson.
Johnson’s performance offset Jackson’s and the Cats were able to match the Cards play for play. When the Cards jumped out to a 7-0 lead in very quick fashion, the Cats answered with a 75 yard TD pass to Juice Johnson. Every time it looked like the Cardinals would settle in behind their Heisman trophy favorite QB, the Cats had a response. When freshman phenom Benny Snell, Jr. fumbled in the fourth quarter and Jackson marched the Cards down the field, Denzil Ware recovered the Jackson fumble and Stephen Johnson marched the Cats down the field to setup the Austin MacGinnis game-winning field goal.
Make no mistake about the game, it wasn’t a fluke. Lamar Jackson had some mistakes, but his performance was worthy of the Heisman trophy. The Kentucky Wildcats showed that the gap between the football programs isn’t as wide as what people thought (27 points was an absolutely ridiculous line). I have no problem with opposing fans being confident in their team, but when it came to Louisville fans and Kentucky football, they were over-confident to the point of absurdity.
In a few weeks the Downtown Athletic Club will call out Lamar Jackson’s name as this year’s Heisman trophy winner and he will no doubt deserve it. I’ll clap and I’ll applaud and I might even cheer. For every time a Cardinal fan reminds me of their Heisman winner, I’ll remind them of the one thing he didn’t do: beat Kentucky