Kentucky Wildcats @ No. 14 South Carolina Gamecocks Preview: Lookin' for Something Positive Edition

UK quarterback Morgan Newton is feelin' the heat. Time to grip it and rip it.

The Kentucky Wildcats (2-3, 0-2), coming off two brutal, losing affairs to top ranked SEC opponents Florida and LSU, as well as a loss to archrival Louisville, travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on Steve Spurrier's No. 14 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1) in a 12:21 ET tilt (SEC Network).  Last year against South Carolina in Commonwealth Stadium, the 'Cats empathetically busted two losing streaks with their 31-28 come-from-behind victory.  First, the team broke a 17-game losing streak to Spurrier, while at the same time shattering a 10-game losing streak to South Carolina. 

One aspect of last season's contest that shouldn't be forgotten by 'Cat fans is the fact that superb running back Marcus Lattimore, who accounted for 204 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the first half (133 receiving, 71 rushing), turned his ankle very early in the third quarter and never returned.  UK shut the rest of the Carolina offensive personnel down, scoring 21 straight points to pull out the win behind the 349 passing yards and four touchdowns passes of Mike Hartline.  Of course, the Gamecocks turned it over four times to UK's zero, immensely helping the 'Cats' cause.

This year, UK enters the contest in desperate need of a solid outing, if for no other reason than to gain back the confidence the Wildcat players must surely feel has been pilfered by poor performance after poor performance so far this season.  Meanwhile, Spurrier will have his club ready to tear down walls, itching to make up for last season's unexpected loss, and last weeks 16-13 loss to the Auburn Tigers.

How Carolina and Kentucky Compare Statistically (SEC rank in parentheses)

Stat                                            South Carolina         SC Opponents                 Kentucky

Points Per Game:                         31.8 (7)                      23.8 (9)                              15.0 (12)

Rush Yards PG:                           197.4 (3)                    159.4 (7)                             116.2 (11)

Pass Yards PG:                           174.6 (9)                    150.8 (1)                             139.4 (11)

Total Offense:                               372.0 (7)                    310.2 (6)                             255.6 (12)

3rd Down Conv:                           42.2% (6)                   43.2% (10)                          27.0% (12)

Opp. 3rd Down Conv:                  43.2% (10)                    -----                                   37.3% (8)

Red Zone Scores:                        73.3% (11)                  83.3% (7)                           72.7% (11)

Interceptions:                                8 (4)                             9                                         7 (6)

Sacks By:                                     13 (1)                           7 (t3)                                   7 (9)

Sacks Against:                              7 (t3)                           ------                                    21 (12)

Net KO Coverage:                        42.2 (12)                      ------                                   48.8 (2)

Turnover Margin:                          + 1                                ------                                   - 2

Wildcats & Gamecocks in the SEC (SEC rank in parentheses)

UK

Danny Trevathan: 59 tackles (1); 5.5 tackles for loss (t4); Two forced fumbles (t4); 2.0 sacks (t8)

Winston Guy: 53 tackles (2); 6.5 tackles for loss (3)

La'Rod King: 61.4 yards receiving per game (9)

Ryan Tydlacka: 43.8 punt average (4)

South Carolina

Marcus Lattimore: 135.4 rush yards per game (1); 10 touchdowns (2)

Ashlon Jeffery: 163.2 all-purpose yards per game (1); 66.4 receiving yards per game (5)

Antonio Allen: 31 solo tackles (2); Three forced fumbles (t2); 49 tackles (4); Three interceptions (t5)

Melvin Ingram: 5.5 sacks (1); 7.5 tackles for loss (1)

Jadeveon Clowney: 4.0 sacks(2); Three forced fumbles (t2); 5.0 tackles for loss (t8)

South Carolina

Steve Spurrier announced earlier in the week that starting quarterback Stephen Garcia would be benched this week for the Kentucky game.  After coming on strong last season, posting very good passing and rushing numbers -- 3,059 passing yards on 224-349 accuracy (64.2%), 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, to go along with 165 yards rushing and another six touchdowns -- Garcia has been a mystery and a disappointment for much of this year.  The senior has completed only 51.7% of his passes (61-118), with nine interceptions and only four touchdowns.  Garcia has been affective on the ground, though, with 171 rushing yards (5.0 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.  But Spurrier, never one to hesitate changing quarterbacks, has opted to go with 6'1" sophomore Connor Shaw.

Shaw, who played most of the fourth quarter of the 2010 SEC Championship game against Auburn -- a quarter in which he completed 4-5 passes for 23 yards, and also ran for 49 yards on six carries -- has this year played in nine games, throwing for 223 yards on 23-33 passing (67.9%).  Shaw, like Garcia, is a highly mobile quarterback, and has rushed for 165 yards on 32 carries (5.1 ypc) so far this season.

When Connor chooses to put the ball in the air, he has All-America candidate Ashlon Jeffery to throw to.  Jeffery, a 6'4" junior with Sydney Rice-type of ability, will test the ability of UK's secondary to control long plays.  He stretches the field as well as any receiver in the country, and if given an inch, will take it to the house.  On the year, and with a poorly performing quarterback, Jeffery has 19 catches for 232 yards (17.5 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.  Last year versus the 'Cats, Jeffery caught six passes for 65 yards and one touchdown.  Two years ago, as a freshman against UK, Jeffery torched the 'Cats with seven catches for 138 yards and three TD's.

Ace Sanders, a 5'7" sophomore receiver is next on the Gamecocks with nine catches for 124 yards (13.8 ypr) and one touchdown.  A speedster extraordinaire, Sanders is also an outstanding punt returner, averaging 14.3 yards per return with one touchdown.  Gamecock basketball point guard Bruce Ellington (5'9" redshirt frosh) has joined the football team this year and is contributing with five catches for 75 yards (15.0 ypr).

The player that Spurrier leans on the most, though, is Heisman Trophy candidate, sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore (6'0" 232lbs).  A combination of strength and speed, Lattimore will run over, around, or through linebackers or some poor secondary member unprepared for his power.  UK's run defense, giving up 199 yards per game on the ground, must locate and pursue Lattimore with a purpose (and be technically sound in their tackling), or the future NFL star will run roughshod through the Big Blue secondary.  Also a threat in the SC passing attack, Lattimore has 12 catches (2nd on the team), good for 139 yards (11.6 ypr) and one touchdown.  On the ground, Lattimore has rushed for 677 yards on 124 carries (5.5 ypc) with nine touchdowns, and is capable of putting up stupid big numbers -- against Navy, Lattimore ran for 246 yards (6.6 ypc) and three touchdowns; against Georgia, he ran for 176 yards (6.5 ypc) and one touchdown. 

Defensively, the Gamecocks are anchored by Spur position player Antonio Allen (Spurrier's Spur is very similar to the position UK's Winston Guy plays for the 'Cats --  a hybrid linebacker/safety).  Allen (6'2" 202lb senior) leads SC with 49 tackles on the season, and is the most unassisted tackler in the SEC with 31 solo take-downs.  He's also picked-off three passes and forced three fumbles, making him the man Morgan Newton must be aware of at all times. 

D.J. Swearinger, a 5'10" 208lb strong safety, is second on the Gamecocks with 28 tackles.  Swearinger loves to hit, and patrols the middle of the field, making the deep ball a difficult proposition. 

The SC twin defensive ends, Melvin Ingram (6'2" 276lb senior) and Jadeveon Clowney (6'6" 254lbs), have combined for 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss on the year.  Both are extremely athletic and quick for their position, particularly Clowney, a freshman, who was the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year coming out of high school last year (he had 29.5 sacks his senior year).  UK has allowed an extraordinary 21 sacks on the season, so this is the contest the now healthy o-line needs to step up their game, and give their beaten and battered QB an opportunity to go through his reads and hit the open man (and opening a few holes for the running backs would also be an improvement).

Kentucky's Second Season

In their last two games, the 'Cats have been out-scored 83-17; they've been out-rushed 584 yards to 223; and they've been out-gained in total yardage 868 yards to 454.  Morgan Newton has completed 22 passes in 75 attempts (29.3%), tossed two touchdowns and thrown two interceptions while being sacked five times, resulting in an antsy fan base clamoring for a change.  Josh Clemons, UK's numero uno running back, has run for 76 yards on 24 carries (3.2 ypc).  Not the type of numbers needed to compete with the nation's elite.

It hasn't been pretty, and some might surmise from the above numbers that it's been downright nightmarish.  But, the good news is that the 'Cats won't play any more teams perched in the same lofty stratosphere as LSU and Florida.  Beginning today, UK absolutely must show they belong on the same field as the Gamecocks: a good team, but a flawed, imminently beatable team.  In order for the 'Cats to have any chance of victory, though, four things that have yet to happen this season, must happen today -- Newton must have time to throw; Clemons must have room to run; the receivers must have the moves to gain separation, and the hands to make the catch; and the defense must bow their collective backs and find a way to slow down Lattimore (but beware of "over" blitzing, for Lattimore will make the blitz look like an unfortunate idea).

As the headline suggests, Kentucky fans are looking for something to cheer for, and the players are searching for reasons to believe in themselves.  The first five games of the season are history, the second season begins today. 

Prediction: South Carolina 24  Kentucky 10

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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