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Kentucky Basketball: Auburn In The Rear-View Mirror, Gamecocks Dead Ahead

When this season began, I saw this three-game home stand as an opportunity for Kentucky to make a statement.  A victory versus the Auburn Tigers would have been a validation of that perception.  A close loss does nothing for it.  Kentucky football futility is filled to overflowing with tough losses, from the Bluegrass Miracle to the overtime Tennessee loss two years ago.

As we look back at Auburn, I have heard people suggest that Kentucky should have allowed Auburn to score a touchdown unopposed and tried to tie or win on the ensuing possession.  I respectfully disagree with all those thinking that.  Did anyone notice that Cobb did not play the last couple of plays on the final UK drive?  That drive right there could have won the game, but Cobb was unable to go and Derrick Locke was out with a stinger.  The odds of him doing it after an Auburn touchdown were therefore vanishingly small, as were UK's odds of pulling it off without him on the field.  In my view, Joker made the right call.  The defense just didn't do what it had to do for Kentucky to win.

It is possible, though, that UK is going to have to start taking some chances, even some big chances, against future opponents.  As well as the defense played in the second half, we all know that our depth is not sufficient for them to have played that well for an entire game.  This defense is young and not really SEC-worthy right now.  They have shown recent signs of improvement, but a complete game, at this moment, seems beyond them.

So perhaps we need to take some chances on a few exotic schemes, more blitz packages, or some other unusual plays that might throw a monkey in the competition's wrench.  Maybe that will fail utterly, but I have always heard that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  That's a fallacy when applied to this situation, of course, but it wasn't meant to be a truism, merely food for thought.

Lying right in front of us now stands a Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina Gamecocks team fresh off a convincing 35-21 upset of the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide.  If Auburn looked like a tough out, the Gamecocks with their powerful freshman running back Marcus Lattimore look at least as tough.  I would say the win over the Tide offsets the loss at Auburn, and South Carolina looks mighty strong right now.  Stephen Garcia has managed a QB rating of over 200 for two games in a row now, a feat that Mike Hartline has managed only once, against Western Kentucky.

Alshon Jeffery is another major concern for Kentucky.  Last year he burned Kentucky for 138 yards in Columbia.  This year, Jeffrey is the leading receiver in the SEC, averaging 125 yards/game.  He is a big, tall, sure-handed target in the mold of Georgia's A.J. Green or Alabama's Julio Jones, and he will make life very difficult for Kentucky's pass defense.

Another concern is the current status of Derrick Locke.  He is now listed as doubtful for the South Carolina game, as is starting defensive end DeQuin Evans.  If Locke cannot play, it is a major blow to the offense that UK will have a lot of trouble recovering from.  DeQuin Evans loss to an ankle injury is arguably just as critical, as he is a senior and one of our better defensive players.

But injuries are a part of football, and if these guys are going to be out, somebody else must step up.  Both Donald Russell and Raymond Sanders have been sound in limited relief of Locke, so this will be an opportunity for them to excel.  Also, after a really good game against Ole Miss, Chris Matthews disappeared again versus Auburn, an ominous sign.  UK will need his skills versus the Gamecock's secondary.

The seventh game of Kentucky's season is pivotal game, make no mistake.  If Kentucky pulls this one off, Kentucky not only breaks a long streak, but also puts its season back on track.  Another loss, and the losing streak goes to four.