At the start of the year, I had this game pegged as a loss. South Carolina was listed as a National Title contender and Kentucky was coming off of a 2-10 season. But now, five weeks in, I think the Cats can win this thing. Let’s take a quick look at the Gamecocks.
USC is coming off of a 21-20 loss at Missouri, a game they led most of the way. Penalties and dropped passes in the endzone allowed the Tigers to hang around and late in the fourth quarter they took advantage and stole the win.
It was, however, USC’s best defensive performance of the year. They entered the game with a struggling defense. They were third worst in the world at getting teams off the field on third down and also allowed a million big plays, especially on first down. So, despite the loss, the fact that they held Mizzou to just 21 points and 2-for-16 on third downs were both bright spots.
Why has their defense struggled? Because their secondary just hasn’t been very good. Which is why they have been susceptible to the big play. Three of their top four corners are freshmen, but they are slowly getting better. They also haven’t got much of a pass rush, which hasn’t helped their struggling secondary. Through five games, they have managed just six sacks.
The star of their defense is true sophomore Skai Moore (6-2, 213). He led the Cocks in tackles and interceptions as as true freshman, which had never happened before in USC history. He has a good nose for the football and is excellent in run support.
Because of their struggles on D, their O’s have been asked to do a lot. And they have been pretty good. They are averaging over 33 points per game and scored 48 against Vanderbilt, a team UK could only manage 17 points against. But, you can also flip it the other way. UK only allowed seven points against Vandy, USC allowed 34, two touchdowns came via kick return touchdowns.
The strength of their offense is their o-line. They returned 113 career starts, which ranks ninth in the country and second in the SEC, behind Auburn. In their wins over ECU and Georgia, their offensive line imposed their will and allowed them to chew clock via the running game. They also have good depth in the backfield. Junior Mike Davis (5-9, 223) was Preseason First Team All-SEC and has 368 yards and three touchdowns on the year. In the loss to Mizzou, he accounted for 104 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, along with two catches for 31 yards. Junior Brandon Wild (6-2, 222) is a bruising runner and at times has shown the ability to carry the offense.
Senior quarterback Dylan Thompson (6-3, 218) has been handed the gig of replacing Conner Shaw, who set several USC records. Thompson is not the runner that Shaw was, but he has shown an ability to make the right plays and protect the football. He is savvy under center and through five games has completed 109 of his 179 passes for 1,359 yards, 12 touchdowns and just three picks.
Sophomore wideout Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 201) does a little bit of everything for Steve Spurrier’s offense. He has been on the field more than any other skill player and against Vandy had a career-high 10 catches for 114 yards. And that’s not all. Cooper also plays a little bit of Wildcat and in that Vandy game he had two carries for 74 yards, including a 70-yarder scamper.
Despite being a disappointed 3-2, the Gamecocks feel that they are not out of it. Spurrier feels that they are a refocused team that still believes they can get into the SEC Championship Game. But, they have no room for error. A loss at Kentucky on Saturday is exactly the error they don’t have room for.
The story of this game to me is UK’s inconsistent offense against USC’s struggling defense. But, then you have to look at a UK defense that has been really good against lesser opponents against a Gamecock offense that has done their best to keep them in games. Which side will give?
If UK’s O’s show up for 60 minutes, I think they win. And I think they finally will. Geeze, I hope I’m not jinxing this thing. Am I too overconfident after UK just broke their 17-game SEC losing streak? Let’s hope not.
Kentucky 31, South Carolina 24