South Carolina has a huge opportunity in Lexington this weekend. The Gamecocks will need to play better than they have thus far in 2022, but the chance to take down a top 15 opponent is there. South Carolina can get a signature win for head coach Shane Beamer if it can beat Kentucky on Saturday. This match-up has been one-sided in the wrong direction as of late, with the Wildcats winning seven of the last eight meetings. It won’t be easy, but the keys to a Gamecock statement win are there.
Keys to a Gamecock Statement Win
Beamer’s team is coming off back-to-back blowout victories over inferior competition. While the confidence gained from putting up 106 points is nice, not much else can be pulled from the last two weeks. The Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season at Ole Miss. They will no doubt be fully focused to play the Gamecocks and keep their season on track. If Saturday is to end with a Gamecock statement win, it won’t be easily obtained.
Punch for Punch
One of the main reasons for Kentucky’s recent control in this series is the Wildcats’ physical play. Mark Stoops has built a program based on toughness and consistency. Too often South Carolina has lost the physical battle to the Wildcats and ultimately lost the game as well. They will need to rise to the physical challenge on both sides of the ball. The offensive and defensive lines will need to be at their best to control the line of scrimmage if the garnet and black hope to come home victorious.
Ground and Pound
The Ole Miss Rebels showed this weekend that there are some big plays to be had against this stout Kentucky defense. They ran for nearly 200 yards at just under five yards per carry. The Gamecocks have also found something in their rushing attack the last two weeks. They have 480 yards on the ground past two contests. The counter and trap plays have become very productive. This offensive line is at its best when they are pulling guards to get out in front of the tailbacks. Blowing opponents off the line is not this unit’s best attribute, so they need to use their movement and agility to create openings in the run game.
Marshawn Lloyd not only has his explosiveness back but is also running with more physicality. He is looking for contact and getting tough yards. That will not be as easy a task against Kentucky, but that makes it even more important to continue to do so. A Gamecock statement win is unlikely if the rushing attack can’t produce. Christian Beal-Smith will also need to get touches. He has a bruising running style and looks to punish defenders when he has the ball. South Carolina will need to maintain its stubbornness this Saturday. Even if the ground game isn’t producing big plays early on, they must continue to try and execute it.
Take it Away
The Gamecock defense is beaten up and thinning each week so far in 2022. They have not fared well in their first two SEC contests. Some of that is due to the injuries testing the squad’s depth. However, the bigger factor is the lack of turnovers forced over the first few weeks. Last season, South Carolina led the SEC in takeaways, and it helped make a decent defense play at a higher level. Without them against Arkansas and Georgia, this defense looked pedestrian at best.
They need to force mistakes and take the ball away to be successful. Clayton White’s defense has forced six turnovers over the last two weeks. They will need to force at least one or two this weekend to leave Lexington with a victory. Kentucky had two crucial fumbles, both by Will Levis, in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Rebels. Pressuring the quarterback will be a big key this weekend. It’s time for Jordan Burch to have a breakout game with some momentum-swinging plays. Debo Williams has proven to be the best at blitzing for this defense. They will need to play aggressively and attack the Wildcat offense.
Start Fast, Play Fast
The biggest factor in determining if Saturday ends in a Gamecock statement win is how the game begins. Slows starts have hung over Beamer’s first season and a half like a plague. They simply can’t afford to struggle early on the road and allow Kentucky and their crowd to build momentum. A big play early in the passing game would be huge. Getting Spencer Rattler off to a quick start would help elevate the play of the whole offense. Look for Jalen Brooks or Jaheim Bell to be targeted early on some downfield throws to open things up. South Carolina doesn’t have the margin for error to fall into another early game deficit and try and fight back. An opening drive score on offense and a stop on defense would do wonders for this team’s belief early in the game.
Time to Step Up
There was a positive buzz around this program all off-season. From the bowl victory to the transfer portal acquisitions to the positive recruiting momentum, things were looking up. All of that is great until the results on the field don’t hold up. So far in the two SEC tests South Carolina has had, the results have not been up to par. They have a chance to change that this weekend. This team needs a big victory to prove the work they have put in is working. Kentucky always seems to play the Gamecocks with their best focus and effort, so it will not be easy. However, winning isn’t easy, and these are the moments players and coaches need to rise to the challenge and show what they are capable of.