The Kentucky Wildcats enter today's 12:30 EST titanic tilt with the South Carolina Gamecocks on the precipice ,,, looking down at the rocks below. Mind you, it isn't an unexpected precipice. Two months ago we all had the road map in the form of the game schedule, so UK sitting at 2-2, staring at two tough road games (isn't that redundant?), should not come as a surprise. The mystery, the unknown, however, is how Kentucky will respond.
Certainly, the Wildcats' play last Saturday against Alabama was a marked improvement over the effort put forth in Lexington versus Florida -- Kentucky ran the ball very well, considering the defense they were facing, and UK's defense held the Tide to nearly 150 yards less than their per game average -- But now, on the road, in front of a famously hostile crowd, will the 'Cats continue on an upward arc?
The answer to that, my friends, lies in the "turnover" category. If Kentucky plays as well as they did against Alabama last Saturday -- with a big caveat -- minus the turnovers (as well as excessive penalties), then they will have a legitimate chance to win today's ballgame, BUT, if UK is in the negative in turnover margin, if they continue to give up possession, they'll go down faster than a sluggish stock market. You can bet your Visor on that.
It's really just that simple -- Kentucky has the talent to win today's game, but talent doesn't trump turnovers.
For more on the game, South Carolina's personnel, and UK in the SEC rankings, make the jump with me.
South Carolina Vitals
Points Per Game: USC - 27.2, Opp's - 16.8
Rush Yards Per Game: USC - 157.4, Opp's - 114.2
Average Per Rush: USC - 4.5, Opp's - 3.2
Pass Yards Per Game: USC - 214.8, Opp's - 150.2
Yards Per Completion: USC - 11.1, Opp's - 10.0
Total Offense: USC - 372.2, Opp's - 264.4
KO Return Avg.: USC - 21.2, Opp's - 26.2
Punt Return Avg.: USC - 7.9, Opp's - 15.8
Turnover Margin: USC - +4
3rd Down Conversion: USC - 38.0%, Opp's - 37.0%
Sacks By: USC - 14, Opp's - 12
Red Zone TD%: USC - 46% (12-26), Opp's - 55% (6-11)
Kentucky and South Carolina SEC Rankings (Keep in mind UK is coming off back-to-back games against two of the three best teams in the country)
Scoring: UK - 25.0 (11), USC - 27.2 (t8)
Scoring Defense: UK - 26.5 (10), USC - 16.8 (6)
Total Offense: UK - 328.5 (11), USC - 372.2 (8)
Total Defense: UK - 353.2 (10), USC - 264.4 (3)
Rush Offense: UK - 158.0 (8), USC - 157.4 (9)
Rush Defense: UK - 190.2 (12), USC - 114.2 (3)
Pass Offense: UK - 170.5 (11), USC - 214.8 (6)
Pass Defense: UK - 163.0 (6), USC - 150.2 (3)
Kickoff Return: UK - 28.3 (3), USC - 21.2 (10)
Punt Return: UK - 10.7 (4), USC - 7.9 (7)
Sacks By: UK - 8 (t8), USC - 14 (2)
Sacks Against: UK - 5 (t3), USC - 12 (10)
3rd Down Conversion: UK - 41.4 (5), USC - 38.0 (8)
Opp. Third Down Conversion: UK - 38.7 (11), USC - 36.8 (8)
Penalty Yards: UK - 65.5 (9), USC - 63.4 (8)
Turnover Margin: UK - -4 (10), USC - +4 (5)
Red Zone Scores: UK - 9-11 (8), USC - 20-26 (11)
Red Zone Defense: UK - 13-17 (5), USC - 9-11 (6)
Wildcats in the SEC Rankings
Junior running back Derrick Locke is No. 2 in the league in punt return average at 10.8 yards per return, and No. 2 in the SEC in kickoff returns, averaging 33.9 yards per return. Locke is No. 1 in the SEC in all purpose yardage (rushing, receiving and returns) with a 173.2 yards per game average. UK's middle linebacker Micah Johnson is No. 5 in the conference in tackles with 35 (8.8 tpg).
South Carolina Offensive Personnel
Stephen Garcia -- 6'2", 219 lb sophomore quarterback: Garcia is 93-155 (60.0%) through the air, good for 1.035 yards and six touchdowns. He's tossed only two interceptions. He's also ran for 142 positive yards on 36 rushes, and two touchdowns. Last year versus UK, Garcia replaced starter Chris Smelley in the fourth quarter, and threw for 169 yards and one touchdown on 10-14 (71.4%) accuracy in the Gamecocks come-from-behind 24-17 victory.
Garcia is a highly mobile, strong-armed quarterback who is playing much better than most prognosticators predicted. The Gamecocks offensive line, though, hasn't been diligent in protecting Garcia -- He's been sacked 12 times in only four games, an area UK must take advantage of, because if Garcia is given time, he'll pick apart UK's secondary.
At the beginning of the season I thought UK would have the better of the two quarterbacks going in this game, but I've since changed my mind. If Garcia is efficient with his passes, and troubles the UK defense as much as other mobile quarterbacks, then SC will be half-way home to yet another victory over Kentucky.
Jarvis Giles -- 5'11", 183 lb freshman running back: Giles leads the Gamecocks with 39 rushes, resulting in 231 yards gained (5.9 yards per carry), and one touchdown. He also has four catches for 24 yards (6.0 yards per reception). Giles was the No. 22 player in Florida last season, as rated by Rivals. He was the No. 21 running back prospect in the country according to Scout.
Kenny Miles -- 5'9", 183 lb redshirt freshman running back: Miles has rushed 28 times for 168 yards (6.0 ypc), and one touchdown. He's snagged three passes for 15 yards (5.0 ypr). Coming out of high school, Miles was rated the No. 33 running back in the nation by Rivals.
Brian Maddox -- 5'11", 224 lb junior running back: The elder statesman among the Gamecocks' backs, Maddox leads the team in carries with 52, good for 162 yards (3.1 ypc) and three touchdowns. He's also caught seven passes for 50 yards (7.1 ypr), and two touchdowns.
Moe Brown -- 6'0", 183 lb senior wide receiver: Brown leads the team with 18 catches, 283 receiving yards (15.7 ypr), and two touchdowns.
Tori Gurley -- 6'5", 227 lb redshirt freshman wide receiver: Gurley has accounted for 17 receptions for 244 yards (14.4 ypr), and one touchdown.
Jason Barnes -- 6'4", 199 lb sophomore wide receiver: This season Barnes has eight catches for 102 yards (12.8 ypr). Last year versus UK, Barnes had four catches for 88 yards (22.0 ypr) -- all in the fourth quarter -- of the Gamecock comeback win.
Alshon Jeffery -- 6'3", 217 lb freshman wide receiver: Jeffery has five catches for 61 yards (12.2 ypr), and one touchdown. Two years ago, the highly sought after receiver was rated the No. 99 pass catcher in the Rivals top-100, and the No. 13 receiver prospect in the country. He was the No. 74 rated player in the nation by PrepStar.
Patrick DiMarco -- 6'0", 243 lb junior fullback: Although a fullback, DiMarco is third on the team with 11 receptions for 70 yards (6.4 ypr), and one touchdown.
* South Carolina starting tight end Weslye Saunders will not play in today's game. Saunders has caught 14 passes for 156 yards (11.1 ypr) this year. Last season versus UK, Saunders made the game-winning catch. His most likely replacement at the tight end spot this afternoon is 6'3", 231 lb redshirt freshman Mike Triglia.
South Carolina Defensive Personnel
Eric Norwood -- 6'1", 252 lb senior linebacker: Norwood, a two-time First Team All-SEC selection leads South Carolina with 30 tackles (19 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss (leads the SEC) and six sacks (leads the SEC). He's also recorded two interceptions and five quarterback hurries. For his outstanding career, Norwood has executed 204 tackles, 49.5 tackles for loss, and 28 sacks (he's the active SEC leader in tackles for loss and sacks).
Stay away from this guy, if at all possible. Norwood is extremely quick to the ball, and the passer. Although UK has done a good job of protecting Mike Hartline, Norwood could prove to be the difference in the game, especially considering UK is without senior right tackle Justin Jefferies.
Perhaps more important for UK than protecting the quarterback, is ensuring the running game is at full steam But once again, Norwood is capable of slowing down the run, which would spell doom for the 'Cats on this day.
Chris Culliver -- 6'0", 190 lb junior free safety: Culliver has 29 tackles (18 solo), .5 tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. Last year versus UK, Culliver recorded the first two interceptions of his career. His last interception sealing the game for Carolina.
Stay away from this guy, if at all possible. Just another reason to run, run, run.
Shaq Wilson -- 5'11", 210 lb sophomore linebacker: Wilson has accounted or 28 tackles (14 solo), and one pass breakup.
Wilson was projected as a back-up to Norwood at the beginning of the season, but his aggressive, hard-hitting style has elevated him to starter's reps.
Darian Stewart -- 5'11", 216 lb senior strong safety: Stewart, who plays a mixture of safety and linebacker, has made 25 tackles (16 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, and two pass breakups. He recorded seven tackles against UK in 2008.
Cliff Matthews -- 6'4", 249 lb junior defensive end: Matthews has recorded 20 tackles, (17 solo), six tackles for loss (second on the team), four sacks (also, second on the team), and one pass breakup.
Devin Taylor -- 6'7", 232 lb redshirt freshman defensive end: Taylor has made 16 tackles (8 solo), one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Stephon Gilmore -- 6'1", 188 lb freshman corner back: The Parade All-America has recorded 19 tackles (10 solo), two tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, and two pass breakups.
South Carolina Special Teams Personnel
Placekicker and Punter, Spencer Lanning -- Lanning is 10-11 on his field goal attempts, but his longest make is only 41 yards. He averages a solid 41.9 yards per punt.
Kicker, Adam Yates -- Yates handles the kickoffs: On 28 kickoffs, he's had only one touchback.
Punt Returner, Akeem Auguste -- He's returned six punts for 17 yards (2.8 yards per return).
Punt Returner, Stephon Gilmore -- Gilmore has returned two punts for 42 yards (21.0 ypr).
Kickoff Returner, Chris Culliver -- He's returned 13 kicks for 279 yards (21.5 ypr).
Kickoff Returner, Bryce Sherman -- Four returned kicks for 106 yards (26.5 ypr).
As most know by now, the Wildcats' two starting corner backs, senior Trevard Lindley and junior Paul Warford, are both injured and will not play today. Replacing the two will be sophomore Randall Burden (four games played; 13 tackles and two pass breakups) and true freshman Netavious Neloms (four games played; seven tackles).
Also missing from action for UK will be "protector designate" of Hartline's grill, senior right tackle, Justin Jefferies. He'll be replaced by junior Brad Durham.
A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my brother Jason, his son Jonah, and my nephew Josiah.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Gamecocks!