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September 9, 2013

Stoops won't downplay Cats-Cards rivalry

It's not just another game.

You can dispense with that cliché when it comes to Kentucky and Louisville, as long as Mark Stoops is the Wildcats' football coach.

The Cats and Cardinals meet Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, and though Stoops will be careful not to let his players get too high -- a lesson learned from a week-one loss to Western Kentucky -- he also won't downplay the significance of the Governor's Cup game.

"Our players need to understand that every week is important, and we will be very systematic in our approach," Stoops said at his Monday news conference. "But I'm never going to shy away from a big game and a rivalry, let's put it that way. We know it's important."

That runs counter to the every-game's-the-same approach so many coaches favor. And Stoops is quick to point out that every game week is crucial. That doesn't mean every game is the same.

"I don't think (the coaching staff) will treat it that way," defensive end Bud Dupree said. "I think everyone already knows what's at stake with this game, including our family members who aren't from Kentucky. They already know what kind of game this is for the program and everything. We just got to go out there and play hard as we can."

It's more than just a rivalry game this week for the Wildcats (1-1). It's a significant opportunity to gauge their progress over the season's first three weeks.

Louisville (2-0) is ranked No. 7 nationally and has its sights set on an undefeated season. The Cards have beaten Ohio and Eastern Kentucky by a combined score of 93-14.

Dupree said Louisville has "a good chance of ranking up there pretty high with" some of the elite Southeastern Conference teams he's seen over the years. He called he Cards' Teddy Bridgewater "the No. 1 quarterback in the nation," and Stoops also had high praise for Louisville.

"I think it's going to take a complete game (to win)," Stoops said. "They're a very good team. They're a Top 10 team for a reason, and we'll need to play good on all three sides to win these games."

Kentucky has a string of "these games" on the horizon, with a trip to No. 13 South Carolina and home games against No. 18 Florida and No. 1 Alabama in the coming weeks.

But Louisville week is up first. And make no mistake, it's significant.

"It's a bitter rival and the word 'love' won't be thrown around too loosely when you put both teams together in the same sentence and you know we're going to come out this week and senior leaders, older guys such as myself need to kind of put a little extra emphasis on this game because it is a big game," running back Jonathan George said. "It's the Governor's Cup, it's basically the title for the state, so we need to come out and be focused and be ready to play Saturday."

George noted that Louisville will be the topic of discussion all week on Twitter, and said he expects his freshman teammates to have a feel for the importance of the game, something veterans stressed over the summer.

That puts a little something extra into this week of preparation.

But Stoops, who said getting his players "hyped up and amped up maybe wasn't the answer" against Western Kentucky, wants to avoid a repeat of Kentucky's season-opening loss.

The game is different than some. Stoops doesn't want game week to change much.

"We're not going to look at this game any differently at all," Stoops said. "We know it's important. We will practice with that urgency. We will coach with that urgency. But it's the next game up, and we're looking to get better each and every day."


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