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Early Kentucky Football Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

We're doing early previews for all 12 of UK's 2015 opponents. Next, we preview what Kentucky can expect out of the South Carolina Gamecocks in Game 2.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

South Carolina Gamecocks

The Kentucky Wildcats will travel to Columbia in Week 2 to face the South Carolina Gamecocks.  The game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on September 12 and will be broadcast by the SEC Network.

What To Know

  • Date: September 12
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • TV: SEC Network
  • Site: Williams-Brice Stadium
  • Team Site: South Carolina Gamecocks Football
  • Twitter Account: @GamecockFB
  • Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (12th season)
  • Offensive Starters Returning: 6
  • Defensive Starters Returning: 6

2014 Gamecocks season recap

South Carolina opened the 2014 season with a bevy of expectations.  After three consecutive 11-win seasons, the expectation was another double-digit win season and a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  The season was lost as soon as it started when the No. 9 Gamecocks hosted the No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies.

The Aggies overwhelmed South Carolina 52-28, introducing Kenny Hill to the world.  However, following the loss to Texas A&M the Gamecocks rattled off three straight wins including a victory over No. 6 Georgia.

The season appeared headed back towards another double-digit win mark until the Gamecocks lost four of their next five including opponents they usually defeated in Kentucky and Tennessee.  The regular season ended with a loss to in-state rival Clemson and the Gamecocks finished 6-6.

They were slotted to the Duck Commander Independence Bowl to play the Miami Hurricanes, who they defeated 24-21.

2015 South Carolina Schedule

2015 South Carolina Gamecocks Schedule

Last Meeting

Last year, South Carolina entered Commonwealth Stadium off a home loss to Missouri. Kentucky had a "black out" and debuted their new chrome helmets. Bud Dupree's 6-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:29 remaining gave Kentucky a wild 45-38 comeback victory. Kentucky trailed 38-24 with 11:45 remaining, but Jojo Kemp rallied the Wildcats with touchdown runs of 1 and 5 yards.  Kentucky took the lead on Mike Douglas' deflection of Dylan Thompson's pass which led to a Dupree touchdown. Ashely Lowery's interception with 1:31 left sealed the game, sparking a huge on-field celebration.

Kentucky (4-1, 2-1) won back-to-back Southeastern Conference games for the first time since 2009.  The Gamecocks' league-worst defense couldn't stop Kemp before turnovers sent them to their second straight SEC loss. South Carolina outgained Kentucky 500-447, but all the Gamecocks had to show for it was another loss on a disappointing season.

Head Coach

Steve Spurrier took over the South Carolina program in 2005 after legendary coach Lou Holtz retired.  He is well known for his time at his alma mater, Florida.  At Florida Spurrier led the Gators to their first national championship in 1996. During his 12 seasons with the Gators, Spurrier's teams won six Southeastern Conference championships, one national title and finished ranked in the nation's top 10 nine times.  He departed Florida in 2001 to take a job in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

While at South Carolina the program has reached new heights under Spurrier's leadership.  The Gamecocks reached their first SEC Championship Game in 2010. The Gamecocks continued to make history in 2011, winning a school-record 11 games and finishing in the top-10 in the final AP poll for the first time. The squad also won a school-record six SEC games and defeated each of their Eastern Division rivals in the same season for the first time.  The success continued for the next two seasons as the Gamecocks won 11 games for three straight seasons (2011-2013).

Key Offensive Players

Pharoh Cooper is easily South Carolina's best offensive player on the roster. He’s the SEC’s leading returning wide receiver in receptions (69) and receiving yards (1,136). Cooper can score in a variety of ways. He caught nine touchdowns, ran for two touchdowns, and threw for two touchdowns in 2014.  He will remind Kentucky fans a lot of Randall Cobb.  Cooper was voted preseason first-team All-SEC as an all-purpose player.

Beyond Cooper, the Gamecocks coaching staff have a lot of holes to fill in the way of playmakers.  One player that figures to be a rock on the offensive line is offensive lineman Brandon Shell.  Shell was selected at SEC Media Days in July as a pre-season third team All-SEC as an offensive tackle.  He is a 6'6", 300-pound monster that has future NFL player written all over him.  He is the great nephew of NFL Hall-of-Famer Art Shell.

Offensive Breakout Player

The Gamecocks success may very well fall on the shoulders of Connor Mitch.  Mitch has been selected to replace Dylan Thompson as the next quarterback under Spurrier.  Mitch came into South Carolina as a 4-star recruit, and now as a redshirt sophomore he will be given the keys to the Spurrier offense. Mitch threw six passes last year, completing two of them for 19 yards.  He has several good wide receivers around him, including Cooper, that will make his life easier.

Key Defensive Players

Skai Moore should be a name that Kentucky fans are very familiar with.  Moore was a highly regarded linebacker prospect out of University High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Kentucky heavily recruited him under both Joker Phillips and Mark Stoops.  Moore was the leading tackler for South Carolina the past two seasons as a true freshman and as a sophomore, the first player to do that since 1994.  Moore is poised for a monster season for the Gamecocks in 2015.

Another guy the Gamecocks are counting is T.J. Gurley.  Gurley is a senior defensive back that finished second in tackles in 2014.  He is listed as the starting nickel back on the post-spring depth chart.  After the South Carolina Spring Game he was named the "Most Improved Spur".  The coaching staff is expecting a big season out of the senior defensive back.

Defensive Breakout Player

It was going to be difficult no matter what to replace Jadeveon Clowney last season, but unfortunately for South Carolina no one stepped up as a dynamic pass rusher.  For 2015 the next great pass rusher looks to be Marquavius Lewis.  Lewis is a 6-foot-3, 265-pound junior college transfer that enrolled in January.  247sports ranked him as the 
No. 3 junior college transfer in the 2015 class.  He will be counted on early and often.

Why Kentucky Should Feel Good

In Mark Stoops' two seasons the games between South Carolina and Kentucky have been close.  In 2013 South Carolina defeated Kentucky by a touchdown, and last season Kentucky defeated South Carolina by a touchdown.

South Carolina is replacing its quarterback and running back this season.  Quarterback Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis have used all of their eligibility after the 2014 season.  Thompson threw for 3,564 yards and 26 touchdowns while Davis ran for 982 yards and 9 touchdowns.  The Gamecocks will lean on some newer faces to make up for the production.  Mitch will be counted on to replace Thompson and Connor Shaw's production from previous seasons.  Running back Brandon Wilds did rush for 570 yards last season, but he will now be the featured back.

South Carolina gave up 212 yards per game on the ground last season.  This was showcased when Kentucky rushed for 239 yards in their victory over the Gamecocks.  During the three consecutive 11-win seasons the strength of the South Carolina defense was the defensive line.   Now, the line is porous and inconsistent.

Why Kentucky Should Be Worried

With all of Kentucky's success against South Carolina under Stoops, there should be worry with the attrition Kentucky's defense has faced in the offseason.  With Jason Hatcher suspended for the game there is concern on how Kentucky's defensive front seven will hold up against a balanced South Carolina attack.  In Lexington last season the Gamecocks rushed for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The game is also at Williams-Brice Stadium at night.  South Carolina is known for a raucous atmosphere and playing well within their hostile environment.  Kentucky has never won a night game at South Carolina, so they must change the mantra if they want a chance this September.

Prediction

South Carolina 31, Kentucky 21