Now, it’s back to the friendly confines of Kroger Field for an SEC East showdown with the South Carolina Gamecocks under the lights.
Kentucky and South Carolina will kick off Saturday night at 7:30 pm ET on the SEC Network. As of Wednesday morning, DraftKings Sportsbook had the Cats listed as a 9.5-point favorites.
Despite having a winning record at 3-2, the Gamecocks have been less than inspiring in Shane Beamer’s second season as head coach.
On the surface, this looks to be a game where Kentucky can assert their dominance on both sides of the ball.
For the first time in 2022, Mark Stoops will find himself tasked with preparing his team to respond after a loss. There will be more than a mental challenge to overcome when the Gamecocks arrive in Lexington on Saturday.
UK is dealing with a slew injuries and will be reeling to find solutions in some form or fashion for the foreseeable future.
It’s common practice to acknowledge that pretty much all college football teams are “banged up” by the time October rolls around.
UK is no exception to that rule and could be plugging holes from week-to-week in some key positions moving forward.
One of the most impactful Wildcats who is likely to miss some time is Jaquez Jones. After suffering a foot injury at Ole Miss, the veteran tried his best to play through the pain but was eventually forced to sidelines. Whenever Jones is on the field, the UK defense is clearly a much better version of itself, so it’ll be interesting to see how his likely replacement, D’Eryk Jackson, will fare on Saturday.
Kavosiey Smoke could also be sidelined against the Gamecocks after taking a shot to the head in Oxford.
We all saw Will Levis’ gruesome finger dislocation, but fortunately, it looks like he’ll be ready to play and thankfully appears to have no lingering issues resulting from that play.
You can expect the “next man up” mentality to be a common theme of the Kentucky football program moving forward.
In the good news department, it appears that the Cats could be on track to regain the services of outside linebacker J.J. Weaver who hasn’t played since the first quarter vs. Youngstown State in Week 3.
Assuming Jones misses considerable time, it’ll be huge for UK to have another veteran available in Weaver.
Offensively, I’d set your expectations for a heavy dose of Chris Rodriguez Jr. on Saturday.
South Carolina has had an abysmal rush defense through five games, and despite it being his first game back, C-Rod was already looking like his old self against Ole Miss.
The Gamecocks have been pretty awful defending the run all year, especially against SEC opponents.
Through five games, USC is surrendering 185 rushing yards per game.
For perspective, UK‘s season high as a team came last week against Ole Miss, and the Cats only ran for 108 yards. The total really would have been 127 yards if Levis had not been sacked for -19 yards.
72 of those 108 hard-fought yards unsurprisingly came from Rodriguez, who I’d anticipate getting a heavy workload on Saturday night.
If Rich Scangarello’s offense struggles to consistently move the chains against a poor South Carolina rushing defense, then that could be real cause for concern as we approach the middle of the season.
From a defensive standpoint the Gamecocks will have a familiar face under center to contend with.
Most college football fans have at least heard the name Spencer Rattler, whether it was from his time spent at Oklahoma, or his role on the Netflix documentary, QB1 — Beyond the Lights.
Rattler’s career has been tumultuous to this point, and that’s putting it nicely.
The bottom line is that the former 5-star quarterback prospect has not lived up to the massive hype that surrounded him before entering college. After simply not getting it done as a Sooner, there hasn’t been very good vibes in the SEC for Rattler up to this point either.
In five games, he’s completed 98/151 passes for 1,121 yards. His 64% completion rate isn’t horrendous, but when you factor in Rattler’s seven interceptions to just four touchdown throws, it becomes clear that he’s really struggling. Entering Saturday’s matchup with Kentucky, Rattler will have a total QBR of just 32.5, as Gamecock fans are growing antsy to see improvement.
MarShawn Lloyd is the Gamecocks primary back. He’s carried the ball 53 times in 2022 tallying 324 yards and six touchdowns. Kentucky will surely be locked in on preventing any big plays in the run game and controlling the field position.
Check out MarShawn Llyod hurdling a defender in South Carolina’s 56-20 win over Charlotte on 9/24.
The receiving core is led by junior Antwane Wells Jr. who’s caught 24 passes for 309 yards.
Don’t let USC’s lackluster quarterback play overshadow the fact that they’re averaging nearly 400 yards of offense and over 35 points per game. 15 of 21 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground for Shane Beamer’s team.
In summary — despite dealing with some injuries, Kentucky should have the upper hand on both sides of the ball against South Carolina.
The SEC East is still up for grabs, but UK has to make sure one loss doesn’t snowball into multiple losses.
Time: 7:30 pm ET on October 8th, 2022
Location: Kroger Field
TV Channel: SEC Network
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on 630AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and the UK Sports Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings for replay schedule).
Weather: Mostly clear sky with a high of 61F and a low of 36F with winds light and variable, per Weather.com.
Score Projection: TeamRankings projects a 31-20 victory, Kentucky!