The South Carolina Gamecocks will finally get their home opener this weekend. Coach Will Muschamp’s team will look to go to 2-0 in SEC as they host the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night. After a hot start to the season away from home, the Gamecocks will look to end a three-game losing streak to Big Blue.
Kentucky Comes to Town
Coach Mark Stoops’ Wildcats come into Columbia on Saturday also sitting at 2-0. They defeated Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky 24-17 and 27-16, respectively. Kentucky has gotten off to slow starts in each game so far, having not scored a first quarter touchdown yet. They come in having won three straight over South Carolina. That should give them confidence despite not playing their best in wins over two lesser opponents.
Running a Blue Streak
The Wildcats ground game is the main reason for their recent success in this match-up. If they are able to add to their streak, their run game will again have to be a major factor. Sophomore Benny Snell Jr has 170 yards through two games this season, after totaling over 1000 yards as a freshman. He had a slight rib injury this past weekend, but has stated he is 100 percent and ready to go for their SEC opener. He ran for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Gamecocks in Lexington last season.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson has been solid if not spectacular to start this season. In Kentucky’s season opener he threw for 176 yards and a touchdown, while running for another score. His mobility could give the Gamecocks trouble. Tight End C.J. Conrad is another weapon the Wildcats will look to use. Much like Hayden Hurst on the other sideline, Conrad is productive both as a pass catcher and a blocker in the run game.
Mark Stoops is a defensive minded coach. His team has allowed under 350 total yards in each of its first two games. The 16.5 points allowed per game is currently 35th nationally. This is a welcome sight after allowing 31.3 points per game a season ago. However, the Gamecocks will undoubtedly pose a much great threat and either of their first two opponents. Junior linebacker Josh Allen has recorded a sack in each of the first two ball games. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will be without linebacker Jordan Jones due to a shoulder injury.
Gamecocks Seek Revenge
With such a young team, a hot start, and escalating media hype, Coach Muschamp could be concerned of a letdown this weekend. There are two major factors that say that shouldn’t happen. South Carolina will be playing its home opener this weekend in what should be a very loud an intimidating Williams-Brice Stadium. The other factor is Kentucky three game win streak in the series. No matter how well you are playing, it would be difficult to overlook a team that has beaten you three times in a row. Many of the younger Gamecock players have spoken about winning this game for the seniors.
While Coach Stoops is building a solid program in Lexington, they are still not one of the powers in the SEC. If Coach Muschamp wants to see his program reach SEC contender status again, they cannot afford to lose this game.
The Gamecocks will need to capitalize on the momentum they have built early in the season. As fast start in front a passionate and loud crowd would be a great way to do that. South Carolina used a conservative game plan to grind out the victory over Missouri. Defensively the Gamecocks have taken a feeling out approach in the first half of each game, then made adjustments and come out more aggressive after halftime. Coach Muschamp’s team would be well served to come out more aggressive from the start to take advantage of the raucous environment in the home opener. The Gamecocks should also look to challenge the Wildcat defense downfield early to loosen things up for the run game.
Big Time Players and Big Time Plays
South Carolina has been able to overcome being out gained in its first two games by making a number of big plays. Play makers like Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst, and Bryan Edwards will need to continue this on Saturday. Sophomore Rico Dowdle has yet to break out in the run game, but back-up Ty’Son Williams did have a few big runs against Missouri. The defense has helped lead the Gamecocks to a five to one edge in turnover margin through two games. Special teams unit has also provided its share of big plays, highlighted by Deebo Samuel shining in the return game.
Making a Statement
Will Muschamp’s team has a chance to make a real statement in their home opener. A win and this team will have a leg up in the SEC east at 2-0 already. Trying to rebuild a program and contend in the SEC is a long process that’s never easy. If the Gamecocks can continue winning and developing this young team, they can stay ahead of schedule.