Can The Cats Break Their Skid?
When Kentucky and South Carolina meet under the lights at 7:30 on the SEC Network, it is a must-win for both teams. The Wildcats are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since the end of the 2017 season. On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks are staring at their worst start in 20 years. Let’s find out who comes out victorious with our Kentucky versus South Carolina Preview.
An Ugly Loss
In almost every season since Mark Stoops took over seven years ago, two things seem to happen. The club has a head-scratching “how did they lose that game” and a “total system breakdown” defeat. The former came two weeks ago against Florida, while the latter came last Saturday.
Barely two minutes into the game, Mississippi State’s Willie Gay picked off a Sawyer Smith pass taking it 52 yards to the house. That pretty much set the tone for the contest as the Cats trailed 21-3 at the half, going on to lose 28-13. Getting behind early forced Kentucky to get out of its customary running game and throw the ball more. The result saw Smith complete 15-of-41 passes for 262 and the one interception. For the True Blue Fans who constantly want the return of the “Air Raid” offense, some digging brought up an interesting stat.
Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 passing attempts in a game 49 times. Their record in those 49 games: 8-41 (.163). Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 rushing attempts in a game 69 (nice) times. Their record in those 69 (nice) games: 48-21 (.696).
— Corey Price (@coreyp08) September 23, 2019
Taking it a step further according to Price, Kentucky has thrown 40 or more passes four times under Stoops losing all four. Furthermore, three of those four games came against Mississippi State in 2014, 2015, and last Saturday.
Not only did Smith have to throw constantly; he was doing it on an injured shoulder. Stoops said if the Cats would have had to play on Sunday, it would have been Walker Wood under center. Quite simply, Kentucky was whipped in every facet of the game. Kylin Hill and Garrett Shrader both ran for over 100 yards against a banged-up Wildcat defense.
If you are looking for positives, Kentucky played much better in the second half. However, they had far too much ground to make up. It’s going to take a much better effort to emerge victorious in their second road game of the season.
Facing Another Backup Quarterback
When the Wildcats head into Columbia on Saturday, they will be facing yet another backup quarterback. Jake Bentley suffered a fractured foot in a season-opening loss to North Carolina. Ryan Hilinski took over and threw for 606 yards in his first two games. This included 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama.
However, he struggled against Missouri completing 13-of-30 passes for 166 yards and a score. In addition, he left the game as Dakereon Joyner finished up a 34-14 loss. Hilinski should play on Saturday but Joyner will be ready just in case.
Whoever is under center, they have two very talented receivers to throw to. So far in 2019, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith have combined for 501 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Rico Dowdle leads the ground game with 268 yards. Look for South Carolina to attack the Kentucky secondary early and often.
This will be the 31st time Kentucky and South Carolina have met on the gridiron. The Gamecocks hold a 17-12 lead with one tie in 1978. However, the Wildcats come into Saturday winners of five straight. Before that, Carolina once won 10 straight from 2000- 2009.
Who Wins On Saturday?
Continuing our Kentucky versus South Carolina preview, it’s now prediction time. As mentioned in the beginning both clubs desperately need a win. The Gamecocks are trying to avoid the worst start to a season since they went 0-11 in 1999. With games still to come against Florida, Georgia, and Clemson this is a must-win if Will Muschamp‘s club wants to make a bowl.
On the other side of the ball, Kentucky is wrapping up its toughest three-game stretch of the season. However, they come into Saturday pretty banged up. They’ve already lost Terry Wilson for the year and they are one big hit away from playing a quarterback who’s never seen action in a college game. Look for the Cats to pound away on the ground with A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke.
Another thing to watch, especially if the game is close, is the kicking game which has been shaky. Starter Chance Poore made only three-of-seven field goals and was injured against Mississippi State. That leaves Matt Ruffolo, not to be confused with the guy who plays The Incredible Hulk, as your kicker.
A win on Saturday would make only the second time in school history Kentucky has beaten an SEC squad six straight times. The other came against Vanderbilt from 1976-1981. There is no one on the current South Carolina roster who has ever won against the Wildcats. That’s obviously a major sore spot as they have had this game circled all year. In the end, Carolina breaks the streak and the Cats are left with two weeks to get well and regroup for the rest of the year.
South Carolina 24-20
Thanks for checking out our Kentucky versus South Carolina preview here at Last Word On College Football. The Cats have a bye week next week before hosting Arkansas on October 12th. Next time out we are going to look at Kentucky’s impressive 2020 recruiting class.
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