The Kentucky football team traveled to Columbia for their last conference game of the year. In doing so they were hoping to end 2023 on a positive note. Unfortunately, what happened was a continuation of season-long issues for Mark Stoops’ club resulting in another loss. Let’s break it down as South Carolina edges Kentucky 17-14.
A Broken Record
Time after time Kentucky’s gotten off to slow starts and it happened again Saturday night. The Cats went three and out on their first possession. Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks marched down the field and when he hit star receiver Xavier Legette it was 7-0.
A second straight three and out gave the ball back to Carolina. This time the Wildcat defense held in the red zone and after a field goal it was 10-0. It marked the second consecutive game Kentucky trailed by double digits before getting a first down.
UK finally got on the board when Devin Leary hit Barion Brown on a seven-yard strike cutting the lead to three. The Cats had two chances to go into the half with the lead. However, Leary was intercepted and on the next series Dane Key fumbled and it was 10-7 Gamecocks. Not getting points on either possession proved costly.
Unable To Convert
After a 31-yard run by Ray Davis put Kentucky up 14-10 things were looking pretty good. In fact, the Wildcat defense forced Carolina to punt six straight times. However, they finally broke through after Rattler faced a second and 26 from the Wildcat 34. USC gained 17 yards on successive plays with the final coming on Legette’s second touchdown reception. Getting stops on third and long has been a season-long issue and it burned the Cats again Saturday night.
South Carolina scored 3 times tonight. To do so, the Gamecocks converted 3rd & 11, 3rd & 11, 3rd & 15, 2nd & 26, and 3rd & 9.
— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) November 19, 2023
Kentucky again had two chances to either tie or take the lead late in the game. On the South Carolina 50 with 2:10 to go Leary was picked off again. The defense held giving them one last chance. Ultimately, Leary’s fourth down attempt was knocked down and that was it as South Carolina edged Kentucky 17-14.
With the loss, Kentucky drops to 6-5 on the year and 3-5 in the SEC East. It’s the second straight year they’ve failed to win four conference games after doing it five of six years from 2016 to 2021. Of course, this is the final year for divisions in the league with Oklahoma and Texas arriving next year.
Next week the Cats end the regular season with the annual “Battle For The Governor’s Cup” against Louisville. The Cardinals are one of the biggest surprises in college football sporting a 10-1 record.
On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks improved to 5-6 overall and finished 3-5 in the league. Next week they host Clemson with a final chance to get bowl-eligible. However even with a loss their APR scores are good enough that they could get in as a five-win club. You have to give Shane Beamer credit for another big November push to end the season. Three weeks ago they were 2-6 and thought to be done but they’ve rallied once again.
For a second straight year, a very promising Kentucky football season has come crashing down. Back at the end of September they sat 5-0 and were dreaming of a New Year’s Bowl. Since then they’ve lost five of six and at this point are probably happy just to be bowling.
You aren’t going to win many games in the SEC committing three turnovers and seven penalties, many coming in crucial stretches of the game. The last two years of Kentucky football have been filled with sloppy play and errors at crucial times.
Since the much-publicized dust-up with basketball coach John Calipari Stoops has gone 13-11 overall and 6-10 in league play. In addition, since signing a contract making him one of the highest-paid coaches in football the Cats are 8-7. After these last two seasons change is needed for 2024.
Kentucky’s always played better when they held the “us against the world” mentality and played with a chip on their shoulder. They need to get that back. Of course, knocking off their in-state rival Louisville would certainly help.
Thanks for checking out our recap here at Last Word On College Football as South Carolina edges Kentucky 17-14. We’ll be back later this week with a preview of the Louisville game.