The 2023 season is winding down and Saturday night marks the last conference game of the year. For the Wildcats and Gamecocks, it’s a must-win on both fronts. The Cats are trying to finish strong after a rough stretch. On the other side of the ball, Carolina is fighting for bowl eligibility. Let’s look at both teams, talk about a special guest, and give you a prediction as Kentucky heads to South Carolina.
Trending In The Wrong Direction
You don’t need to be an analytics genius to know that Mark Stoops’ club is limping to the finish for a second straight year. A season ago they started out 4-0 then dropped six of the last nine to finish 7-6. Following a 5-0 start this year the Big Blue Nation was dreaming of a New Year’s Bowl. However, they’ve lost four of the last five and are 6-4.
As frustrating as the losses are they follow a similar pattern, a slow start. Against Alabama, UK trailed 21-0 before ever getting a first down. It was much the same versus Georgia as penalties and turnovers put the Cats behind early and could never recover. You aren’t winning many games like that much less beating the top teams in the nation.
One big issue continues to be the pace of play. The Cats are last in the nation averaging 56.6 plays a game, the lowest total in a decade. The next closest team is Pittsburgh at 59. Taking a step further Iowa, whose offensive struggles are talked about nationwide, runs 60 plays per game on average. Fortunately for Devin Leary and the offense, they’ve got two more games plus a bowl to get things going the right way.
Scouting The Gamecocks
Shane Beamer’s squad comes into Saturday night’s game with a 4-6 record. Two weeks ago they sat 2-6 and were out of any sort of bowl contention. However back to back-to-back wins have the Gamecocks thinking postseason. They knocked off Jacksonville State 38-28 two weeks ago and easily handled Vanderbilt 47-6 last Saturday.
The offense is led by quarterback Spencer Rattler. Over the last two games, he’s thrown for 750 yards and five touchdowns. He only needs 134 more to go over 3,000 in a season for the third time in his career. So far in 2023, Rattler ranks first in the SEC in pass attempts, third in yards, and fifth in touchdowns.
When Carolina runs the ball the main man is Mario Anderson. The senior has rushed for 645 yards and three touchdowns. Behind Anderson, only one other Gamecock back has run for more than 100 yards on the year. Through the air Rattler’s favorite target is Xavier Legette who sits fourth in the SEC with 59 receptions. In addition, his 1,093 yards put him second in the league and fifth in the nation.
As we continue on with our preview as Kentucky heads to South Carolina let’s look at the rivalry between the schools.
The Kentucky-South Carolina rivalry has been one of streaks. This will be the 35th meeting all-time between the two schools. Currently, the Gamecocks lead 19-14 with one tie. USC won 10 straight between 2000-2009 while Kentucky won five in a row from 2014-2018.
Taking it a step further the Cats have won seven of the last nine with Carolina winning in 2019 and last year. In a bit of irony, both Gamecock wins came when Kentucky was missing their starting quarterback. Terry Wilson in 2019 and Will Levis last year. Speaking of 2022 Marshawn Lloyd ran for 110 yards and Rattler threw for 177 in a 24-14 win. Kaiya Sheron filled in for Levis throwing for 178 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Overall Stoops is 7-3 against South Carolina while Beamer is 1-1 versus the Cats.
A Very Special Guest
Love it or hate it one thing usually comes to mind when you think of South Carolina football and that’s “Sandstorm.” On Saturday night the song’s writer Darude will be in Columbia performing his hit in a pregame concert at Gamecock Park.
The song has been an anthem for Carolina since first being played on October 4, 2009, when they were hosting Ole Miss. Usually, this kind of thing is reserved for when John Calipari and the basketball Cats play on the road.
As we do with all our previews it’s prediction time as Kentucky heads to South Carolina.
Who Wins On Saturday?
We’ve talked a lot recently about the ending of an era when it comes to the SEC and it happens again on Saturday. With Oklahoma and Texas coming in next year the divisions are going away. As a result, this is the last meeting of the two schools as members of the SEC East. However, it’s been highly rumored the they’ll be each other’s permanent rivals. It’s become a really good rivalry and would be a shame to see it end.
On the field, South Carolina’s struggled against the pass ranking 121st in college football giving up 268 yards a game. With Kentucky’s recent emphasis on the passing game that seems to bode well. Another issue for Carolina is protecting the quarterback as they rank 120th in sacks allowed with 37.
Of course, Alabama had similar issues and UK couldn’t get to Jalen Milroe. In order for Kentucky to win they have to get pressure on Rattler.
With the special guest on Saturday, Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking. Although, Kentucky is 3-1 in their last four trips to Columbia and would like nothing more than to potentially knock them out of a bowl bid. Most games between these two go down to the wire and this should be no exception. Look for a close one that Kentucky wins late.
Thanks for previewing the game with us as Kentucky heads to South Carolina. We’ll be back with a complete wrap-up after the game.