Kentucky coach Joker Phillips is not interested in giving any thought to how young the Louisville Cardinals are.
"In a game like this, none of that stuff matters," he said. "You throw out any numbers, you can throw out age of a guy, throw out any statistics. This just will be an old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves and get after each other" game."
Age is important to Cardinals coach Charlie Strong, though. After losing 25 seniors from last year's team and looking somewhat unimpressive in a 1-1 start, Strong is still looking for some confidence from his squad, one of the youngest in the nation.
"Our guys have to have confidence, and they have to believe that they can get it done -- and that's what what's lacking right now, just the total confidence within each player," Strong said.
Snapping a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats on Saturday
night in Lexington in the annual Governor's Cup showdown might be a start for the 23 Cardinals who have made their college football
debuts in the past two weeks. Whether out of sincerity or in an
effort to motivate those players, Strong declared Kentucky (2-0) to
be a much better team than his own.
"We are going to go face a team now that is a very good football team. You look at Kentucky and I don't know if we can beat Kentucky right now. "They've beaten us four straight years. They've been to five straight bowl games. We've been to one bowl game in four years. They have out-recruited us. We still have a ways to go. We have to go catch that program because within this state right now, Kentucky leads the series. We have a long ways to go. We have to continue to rebuild this program and get this program headed back in the right direction."
Phillips isn't necessarily buying that, especially since Louisville (1-1) is averaging 415.5 yards per game on offense behind quarterback Will Stein, who has completed 62.7 percent of his passes. Still, the Cardinals have averaged just 19 points and have turned the ball over seven total times in a win against Murray State and loss to Florida International.
"We just have to get better at finishing and scoring more points," Stein said. "You can't go out there and have 450 yards of offense and score 17 points and win a game. It just doesn't work like that. As the leader of the offense, I have to be a better manager and get us in the end zone more. A lot of that stuff I can control, so I need to do a better job of that this week."
For his part, Stein has done a good job protecting the ball and is responsible for just one interception. But he'll be facing a veteran Kentucky defense that has a Football Bowl Subdivision-high six interceptions this season and has allowed only 16 points total in two games, all in the first half.
The Wildcats defense, led by the Southeastern Conference's top
two tacklers in Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, has been key to
the team's 2-0 start. Kentucky has had its own offensive struggles in wins against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan.
The Cats lost their quarterback, top two wide receivers and top tailback from 2010 and are averaging just 267 yards and have converted only 25 percent of their third-down attempts. They picked up a little steam in the second half of their 27-13 victory against Central Michigan, especially after freshman running back Josh Clemons took off for an 87-yard touchdown run that proved to be the difference in the game.
Clemons, who has had 165 yards on 25 carries in two games, will make his first start against Louisville in place of sophomore Raymond Sanders, who had arthroscopic surgery on Thursday to repair a cartilage tear in his right knee.
"We got a lot of stuff cleaned up and blocked a lot better offensively," offensive lineman Stuart Hines said. "We had a rough start in the first half, and had a rough time getting going. We couldn't convert on third down, and in the second half we were able to show that we have some big-play ability. Hopefully we keep improving."