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Kragthorpe, Cardinals need a rivalry reversal

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Justin Burke saw himself as Switzerland while growing up in Lexington, Ky.

His mom was an ardent Kentucky fan, while his dad grew up in Louisville and rooted for the Cardinals. Burke refused to pick sides and would wear orange or some other unaffiliated color whenever he'd go to a Kentucky game.

"I didn't want to be either of my parent's favorite," he said.

Now, though, Burke's house is no longer divided. The NC State transfer is the starting quarterback at Louisville, and his family will be firmly behind him and the Cardinals when they play the host Wildcats on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

The rest of Burke's friends and acquaintances from Lexington haven't switched allegiances. For the past year, they've been telling him they hope he plays well in this game, and that his team gets stomped.

"It's almost like a foreign society to me," Burke said of Lexington. "There's the Burke complex and the rest of city. I don't feel like I can go out there very comfortably any more."

While Burke has straddled both sides of this rivalry, Louisville has been on the wrong end of it since Steve Kragthorpe took over.

Kragthorpe has had a hard time endearing himself to Cardinals fans, and a large part of that stems from his failure to beat Kentucky in his first two years. His predecessor, Bobby Petrino, never lost to the Wildcats and often beat them soundly. But Kentucky now has the upper hand in the state, having won three straight bowl games while Louisville has stayed home the past two postseasons, and the Wildcats have gained a strong foothold on recruiting in the commonwealth.

Just think of how differently Kragthorpe's tenure might look had he been able to win the Governor's Cup the last two years. Last season, his team trailed 10-2 in the fourth quarter before giving up 17 unanswered points. A win there would have made the Cardinals 6-6 and bowl eligible.

Kragthorpe's first foray into this rivalry was much more painful. The Cardinals lost 40-34 when Kentucky's Andre Woodson hit wide open Steve Johnson for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left. Louisville, which finished 6-6, would have gone bowling had it won that game.

"I wake up every night thinking about it," Kragthorpe said Monday. "It sticks in your craw, no doubt about it.

"I think that's one I'll take with me to the grave. And I'll remember it while I'm in the grave."

Kragthorpe seemed relaxed at his press conference on Monday, cracking jokes with reporters. But he knows getting back on the right side of the ledger in this series is very serious to his fan base.

"It's very important to me," he said. "We want to beat Kentucky. I want to beat Kentucky, no question about it. Every game you go into, you want to win. But I think a game of this magnitude puts a little added flavor into it, and it's a game that's so talked about in the state."

To do so, Louisville will have to play much better than it did in its opening 30-10 win over FCS punching bag Indiana State two weeks ago.

The Cardinals will have back three defensive linemen -- Joe Townsend, L.T. Walker and Tyler Jessen -- who weren't available in Week 1. That should help. But much of the onus will be on Burke, who took more than a quarter to find a groove in his first collegiate start. He'll have to be sharper earlier than he was in that game, and he'll have to keep the ball away from Kentucky's star cornerback, Trevard Lindley.

"We need to complete passes," Burke said. "We need to get back in a rhythm as an offense to move the ball."

It's going to take that and a lot more for Burke to help Kragthorpe plant a flag in this rivalry.