In the final game of this COVID-induced SEC only season, the Kentucky Wildcats took care of business against the South Carolina Gamecocks in picking up a 41-18 win. For a change of pace, the Wildcats looked like they were having fun out there. Terry Wilson was throwing passes into the end zone, defensive play-makers stepped up in the absence of other starters, and Kentucky imposed their will throughout the game.
Kentucky stuck to their philosophy for the most part, moving the ball on the ground at will. But there was certainly more willingness to attack through the air. Whether that was an intentional paradigm shift or a response to the fact that South Carolina only had 16 players available to play defense we may never know.
Kentucky finishes the season with a record of 4-6 and, if they choose to play, should end up with a good bowl opportunity. Here are a few things you need to know about Saturday’s game and heading into the postseason.
Like I mentioned, Kentucky was much more willing to throw the football against South Carolina. The Gamecocks were very short-handed and inexperienced, and that may have played a role in the aggressive play calling. But Eddie Gran still showed some creativity with pre-snap motion, moving Josh Ali and tight ends all over the field, and aggressively throwing the ball deep before halftime.
Of course, Chris Rodriguez was the star of the night. After missing the last two games, Rodriguez torched the Gamecocks for 139 yards and three scores on just 14 carries.
We do not know if Gran is currently coaching to keep his job. I doubt anything that happened on Saturday will be a factor in decisions about the staff, but there were certainly some things from a strategy standpoint that were more exciting than the previous few games.
In perhaps the last game for a few of them, the seniors really stepped up and led the team. Terry Wilson had one of the best performances of his career on Saturday, both in the passing game and his decision-making. He also ran the ball well and picked up a touchdown on the ground. He leaves Lexington as the first player in Kentucky history to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career.
Filling in for Quinton Bohanna, sixth-year senior Phil Hoskins had some big tackles anchoring the middle of the defensive line. Justin Rigg had a career day catching the football. And Josh Ali got several touches in both the pass and the run game.
Many were calling for a change to focus on the future of the team. But with such an impressive win on Saturday, I think most fans will be okay with the older guys being the difference in their final regular season game.
You may have read a lot about South Carolina being short-handed on Saturday. That is absolutely true, as the Gamecocks reportedly only had 46 players able to play.
But do not forget that Kentucky was without several players as well. Quinton Bohanna was out, Kelvin Joseph opted out, and Keaton Upshaw was injured early in the game.
Even before Upshaw was injured, Kentucky was down 17 players due to opt-outs, injuries, and COVID-19. So while the Gamecocks may have been playing with an interim coach and a limited roster, that should not diminish this victory as the Wildcats were not exactly at full strength either.
There are several big questions for Kentucky plans over the next few weeks. Will there be any coaching changes? Will the team accept a bowl bid? And will any seniors return?
For the coaching changes, I honestly do not anticipate any major turnover. But it would not surprise me if a few folks are replaced. This will likely happen sooner rather than later, if it happens.
As crazy as this season has been, I expect the bowl season to be a train wreck. Who can stay healthy? Who will opt out? Which bowls will even stay on the schedule. I expect the Wildcats to commit to a bowl game when the opportunity arises. They have put themselves in a position to get an opportunity to be in the range of bowls we have seen in recent years. Several of these guys would love the opportunity to get another bowl win and get another chance to improve, let alone the extra practice that comes with a bowl opportunity.
Terry Wilson has pretty much said he is not coming back. But what about Josh Ali, who has produced more and more as the season has gone on? What about AJ Rose, who is now a top ten rusher in school history? Could Brandon Echols improve his potential draft stock with another year? We know Quinton Bohanna finished the year on the sideline, which is obviously not how you want to end a career. And what about kicker Matt Ruffolo? Justin Rigg? Davonte Robinson?
With the NCAA granting an extra year to anybody that wants it, you have to think some of these guys will consider coming back. Perhaps all of them leave the program after the season. Maybe a few of them return. But I expect several of these decisions to drag out for several months. Stay tuned here to A Sea of Blue for the latest updates on the futures of the current Wildcats.