The senior class of the Gamecocks have not beaten the Wildcats football team, so they will have extra motivation to defeat the ‘Cats in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Here are 4 reasons Kentucky will win, and 3 reasons that they won’t:
Why UK will win…
- Pass defense against Jake Bentley. Kentucky is shaping up to have one of the best defenses in school history. The corners can be tested, but the safety play and pass rush are as good as you’ll find north of Georgia in the East. Bentley is only a sophomore and, though he looks to be a fine young quarterback, hasn’t gone up against a pass defense like Kentucky’s this year.
- Red-zone defense. South Carolina has scored on four of their five trips to the redzone this year. If they are getting into that part of the field regardless it is not a good sign for the ‘Cats, but this is the SEC. It’s bound to happen. The key for the team is forcing South Carolina into uncomfortable third-and-long situations and put the heat on their inexperienced quarterback.
- Successful run game. Though South Carolina hasn’t exactly been a sieve in the run game, they still have given up more rushing yards than they have gained. Kentucky hasn’t quite got their running game rolling and, if they are, this is the time they need to do it. If Kentucky can average over four yards per carry, it’ll open up the play-action, thus opening up the offense.
- Stout kickoff defense. South Carolina has already scored two kickoff returns for touchdowns so far this year. Big-plays can swing and even determine games (see C.J. Conrad vs. Southern Miss), so minimizing that risk is vital to the team’s success. Coach Dean Hood has been a huge addition to the staff for special teams, and I have little doubt he will prove that worth Saturday.
Why UK will lose…
- Inability to create turnovers. Kentucky has won their first two games of the season largely due to turnovers (four fumbles and an interception). South Carolina does not turn the ball over. Kentucky has impact players on all three levels of their defense, but if they can get the ball out of the Gamecocks’ hands the team will be in trouble.
- South Carolina’s run game. Rico Dowdle is just a sophomore, but he was the team’s leading rusher, and Ty’Son Williams is averaging over five yards a carry this season. Kentucky has done a fantastic job of limiting opposing rushers (only 2.02 yards allowed on 58 attempts), so we have not seen how a successful running game can expose our defense. If the run game opens up it can only help Bentley.
- Deebo Samuel. There are certain players that can single-handedly swing games. Deebo Samuel is that player. He is averaging 25.1 yards per touch so far this year. 25.1! He has returned two kickoffs this year. Both went for touchdowns. He has rushed the ball twice, one of those rushes ended in a score. The guy is simply a threat every time he touches the ball. It’ll be up to the corners of the Wildcats to contain him. If they can’t, it will be a long night for Kentucky.
Kentucky has started the season in discouraging fashion, but the team is still 2-0. South Carolina has been tested early (North Carolina State, Missouri) and have come away with wins. This is a toss-up game at this point, but if Kentucky can follow the four steps above they have a very good chance of leaving Columbia with a victory.