Each Monday night during the football season, the blog will look ahead to South Carolina’s next opponent. This week, it’s Kentucky.
The road can be a cold and lonely place. In isolation, there is only the visiting team’s locker room to hide from all the hate. Once out on the field, the wrath of a road crowd can be overwhelming.
South Carolina enters this week with a weary road trip on the horizon. The Gamecocks will be on the road for the final three weeks of October, logging more than 2,000 miles in three different states. But first, they get to host Kentucky.
Call it the calm before the storm. A quick breather before running three marathons. The Wildcats, losers of their opener against Western Kentucky, bring a 1-3 record into Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. Should be an easy win for a team that could really use an easy game.
Here’s a look at the matchup:
Who: Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC East) at No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC East)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) | Columbia, S.C.
Radio: Gamecocks Sports Network (WWIK-FM, 98.9 in Charleston) | Affiliates
Line: South Carolina -21 (opened at -21)
What to know about Kentucky: The Wildcats are under new leadership. First-year coach Mark Stoops, he of a strong family name in college football, is trying to do what many believe impossible – build a winning football program in Lexington. His name certainly demands respect. The younger brother of Bob and Mike Stoops, Mark belongs to a family tradition of successful head coaching ventures. This would be the toughest challenge the Stoops boys have tried to tackle, so to speak.
As for player personnel? Well, that only makes Mark’s job harder. Kentucky ranks last in the SEC with 21.8 points per game. It ranks eighth with 23.3 points allowed per game. It is the only SEC team allowing more points than it has scored. In a word, yikes.
When last they met: South Carolina 38, Kentucky 17, on Sept. 29, 2012. Nobody will soon forget this game. It was referenced as recently as Saturday, when Steve Spurrier compared USC’s win at UCF to its win last year at Kentucky. The Wildcats jumped out to a shocking 17-7 halftime lead. Then the Gamecocks had enough, outscoring Kentucky 31-0 in the second half. So much for that upset. Marcus Lattimore led the comeback with 120 yards on 23 carries, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Kind of like Mike Davis did Saturday.
All-time series: South Carolina leads 16-7-1. Gamecocks outscore Wildcats 26-18.6 on average.
Which Gamecock is crowing loudest: Mike Davis. And not just because of his 167-yard, three-touchdown performance in Orlando. Those numbers could be child’s play compared to what USC’s running back does to Kentucky this weekend. The Wildcats have the 13th-worst run defense in the SEC, allowing 200.75 yards per game. In each of its four games, USC has rushed between 220-228 yards.
Who’s keeping South Carolina coaches up at night: LB Avery Williamson, DE Za’Darius Smith. Kentucky’s defense isn’t near as bad as its offense, and the reason is pretty obvious. The Wildcats have better, more experienced players on defense. Williamson leads the SEC with 42 tackles this season, and he’s the only SEC player averaging double-digit tackles per game. Smith is second in the SEC with 4.5 sacks. That’s more than double Jadeveon Clowney’s total. USC’s offense will have to account for both defenders.
Quotable: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier after the Kentucky game last season, talking about the second-half comeback – “Maybe we learned something today. The old I-Formation, the old power play, this that and the other sweeps are not bad. We don’t have to run zone reads and all that shotgun stuff all the time, and that was very helpful for us.”