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South Carolina Gamecocks 38, Kentucky Wildcats 45: Postmortem

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Kentucky made a lot of mistakes last night, but big plays and Gamecock miscues provided the biggest victory of the Mark Stoops era.

Joe Robbins

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, Kentucky stands in a place it has not occupied in the SEC since 2007 — 2-1. When this year started, I think we all suspected … no, check that, knew that the Wildcats would be better. We knew the infusion of talent from excellent recruiting, the change to SEC-quality quarterbacks, and the incredible depth that Kentucky enjoys at running back would make the UK offense dangerous, if not threatening. We knew that the return of Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, the maturation of Jason Hatcher, the addition of A.J. Stamps, and the experience of the secondary, the defense would be better. What we did not suspect is that it all could come together in such an impressive fashion.

First of all, we must acknowledge our worthy opponents, the South Carolina Gamecocks. It would be improper to congratulate them on a game well played, although they did play well in stretches, especially on offense. What South Carolina could not do, and did not do, is win in the trenches when Kentucky was on offense. Kentucky’s offensive line was fully the equal of South Carolina’s defensive line, and that is something of a surprise. The secondary of the Gamecocks is young, and it showed.

Having said all that, the Gamecocks are more talented and probably should have won this game if they had made fewer mistakes, and perhaps even if they had just run the football in the fourth quarter instead of throwing it which resulted in a pick six for the go-ahead touchdown and later a game-ending interception. That, I feel, was an error considering how well their running game was working, and judging by the comments over at Garnet and Black Attack, the USC fans are fully in agreement with that.

I think we should note at this point that Kentucky played far from perfectly. They repeatedly garnered major penalties for everything from personal fouls to pass interference to holding to clipping. Add another bad fumble to the mix by Patrick Towles that led to a score, and it took a monumental combination of Kentucky big plays and South Carolina ineptitude for the Wildcats to pull off this season-changing victory. South Carolina played well enough most of the contest to win, but in the end, they just didn’t, and the end looked ugly for the Gamecocks.

And finally, before we get into the details of play, I thought the coaching staff deserved a big shout-out. Mark Stoops was the antithesis of Steve Spurrier yesterday in the sense that when he found something that worked, he didn’t worry about run-pass balance or other such football niceties. That happened in the form of the Wildcat formation with Jojo Kemp and Braylon Heard running the ball. The Gamecock defense simply could not stop either of those backs, and Stoops ran it right up until it was time for the victory formation. Stoops wound up looking young, aggressive, and engaged, and the Ol’ Ball Coach wound up looking… well, ol’.

Kentucky box

Box Score at UKAthletics.com

Highlights:

  • 239 uards rushing, 208 passing for a total of 447 yards;
  • Carolina outperformed Kentucky both in rushing and passing, totaling 500 yards;
  • Kentucky averaged 6.6 yards per carry. That’s an outstanding number
  • The Gamecocks ran 19 more plays than UK, and possessed the ball almost 10 more minutes than UK.
  • Kentucky won the turnover battle 3-1, and it should have been 4-1.
  • Despite constant pressure on Dylan Thompson, Kentucky did not register a sack. They surrendered one.

Team observations

  • I thought the offensive line was fantastic, both run and pass blocking. For the most part, Towles had all day to throw.

  • The pressure on Thompson was excellent from the edge, and from blitzes.

  • The defensive line had a very hard time getting off blocks in the run game. They have struggled with this all season, and that has to improve.

  • The defensive backfield played very well against a very talented receiver corps. UK’s secondary is a threat to take the ball away from you, and they play very well in single coverage as well as zone.

  • The running backs, even absent Stanley Williams, was outstanding. They took their time and did a fine job of handling and taking care of the ball in all kinds of situations.

  • I love the passion these young coaches bring to this team, and it is clearly infectious.

  • 15-yard penalties are the felonies of college football, and Kentucky committed 8 penalties for 80 total yards. That’s unacceptable, almost ten yards per penalty on average, and at least three of them were inexcusable. I think team discipline needs to be re-emphasized, I hate to see so many personal fouls committed in a game. I get less exercised about holding, but personal fouls are almost always unnecessary and stupid. Regie Meant could have arguably been called for another late hit. He’s living a charmed life.

  • Special teams played very well, I thought. Kick and punt coverage were good, and there were no mishandles, although UK did almost get hit by one punt.

  • Nobody could have stopped Mike Davis tonight, which is why it seems so strange he got so little action in the second half. Kentucky has to find a way to do a better job

Individual observations

  • Jojo Kemp gets the game ball for the offense. He ran for 131 yards on 17 carries and had a 7.7 YPC average. That’s lights-out. He put Kentucky on his back in the 4th quarter and carried the ‘Cats to victory.

  • Great game by Bralyon Heard before he went out with cramps. He had an 11.2 YPC average on 8 carries.

  • Other than the fumble, which is something he has done with troubling consistency, Patrick Towles played extremely well. He was sharp, his passes were on target and he even made some good blocks during Wildcat runs, something I wouldn’t have expected from him.

  • The offensive line, as a unit, was great. One dumb penalty in the first half arguably cost Kentucky points, but other than that, they protected Towles and broke open nice holes for the running backs.

  • Javess Blue had only 3 catches, but all of them were of high quality.

  • Ryan Timmons led all receivers with 5 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.

  • Garrett Johnson had a fantastic catch in the first half that produced the game-tying field goal.

  • A.J. Stamps and Josh Forrest share the defensive game ball. Forrest’s 11 solo tackles and 4 assists were a season high for him, and he had a pass breakup late in the game that was crucial to victory. A.J. Stamps had a huge interception in the first half and several great pass breakups. Stamps is a menacing player on defense, and this defense needs one.

  • Bud Dupree’s remarkably athletic pick-six deserves mention, as it put Kentucky ahead to stay. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that it was Mike Douglas’ big paw that provided the opportunity.

  • Matt Elam just keeps getting better. He had a solid game including a pass rejection.

Tying it all up

Program-wise, this was a season-defining win for Stoops & Co. It announces, rather loudly, that Kentucky is back as a football program. No, we aren’t likely to threaten the division leaders yet, but the combination of outstanding recruiting, red-shirting and improved schemes have really made this team dangerous, especially in Commonwealth Stadium. Given what Mississippi State did yesterday to Texas A&M, I’m not sure we have a great chance in that game on October 25th, but vs. Georgia, at Missouri, Tennessee and Louisville, I think this Kentucky club will have a shot. It is also possible that LSU is vulnerable enough for the Wildcats to pull off an upset in Death Valley, but that concept seems too alien for me to suggest as a real possibility. It’s just possible that Auburn is that good given the result yesterday against the Tigers.

Assuming Kentucky manages to defeat ULM next Saturday, the Wildcats need only one more victory in it’s last six games to go to a bowl in Stoops’ second year. That would be an astonishing result, and could produce far-reaching benefits in recruiting as well as program perception. The bad news? Mark Stoops will begin to be coveted for better jobs.

But we’ll cross that bridge when it comes before us. Right now, we need to do a little celebrating of this big victory. It has been a long time coming, and Spurrier is still 8-2 against us. But he always seems to have trouble with Kentucky, and it showed up again last night.