How will they bounce back from that tough defeat in Oxford where Kentucky’s mistakes ultimately cost themselves a major SEC road win? Who will play quarterback? What effect will other injuries have?
As the Wildcats prepare for a home test against their division rival, here are five Kentucky Wildcats to watch Saturday night.
#1. Will Levis/Kaiya Sheron
The biggest question coming into the game may be who will be taking snaps at quarterback for Kentucky.
On Wednesday, rumors began circulating that Will Levis may not be available for Kentucky due to an injury, which lowered Kentucky from a double-digit favorite to just six points.
It’s not certain that Levis is out, but it seems like it could be a game-time decision, and if he’s not available, Kaiya Sheron will reportedly be Kentucky’s QB for a big SEC game.
Sheron is a redshirt freshman from Somerset, Kentucky, who hasn’t really taken any meaningful snaps yet as a Wildcat. This would be quite the way to thrust Sheron into the spotlight, but the coaches obviously have some confidence in him and will draw up a game plan to maximize his effectiveness.
Whether it’s Will Levis or Kaiya Sheron, the QB position will definitely be something to keep an eye on Saturday.
#2. Deondre Buford
It’s looking more and more likely that Jeremy Flax’s injury at the end of the Ole Miss game wasn’t just a cramp, but instead it’s reportedly a hamstring injury.
Reports out of practice indicate this week that Deondre Buford has been taking reps as right tackle with the 1s.
Buford was talked about leading up to the season, but the 6’3 sophomore from Detroit has mostly been a second-team right guard behind Tashawn Manning.
Buford was a highly-recruited tackle out of high school, ranked as the 24th offensive tackle in the 2020 class.
Going up against South Carolina could be a big test, but this could also serve as an opportunity for Buford to show what he can do.
The offensive line has had its struggles, but hopefully, if Buford starts at tackle on Saturday, he’s up for the challenge.
#3 D’Eryk Jackson
Jackson is the next man up in Kentucky’s inside linebacker room with an injury to Jacquez Jones.
Through the first 5 games of the season, Jackson has totaled 11 tackles, three of which came last week when he came in to replace Jones, who was injured early in the game.
Not having Jones hurts with his game experience, but Jackson is plenty talented and has shown the ability to be a strong piece in the middle of the Wildcat defense. He had some good moments last week, and played well when called upon in the bowl game against Iowa last year, as well as in the Louisville game.
Jackson nearly had a huge interception in the Ole Miss game. Let’s see if he can make some big plays for the Wildcats against South Carolina.
#4. JJ Weaver
This one is conditional on if Weaver actually plays on Saturday.
Right now, his status is still up in the air, but if Weaver is able to play, he will likely be a difference maker for Kentucky up front.
Without Weaver, Kentucky hasn’t been able to get the kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks they would like and Weaver makes a big difference in stopping opposing rushing attacks.
South Carolina’s pass protection has been inconsistent, allowing six sacks against the Arkansas Razorbacks, so there are some opportunities for Kentucky’s pass rush to get through and put pressure on Spencer Rattler, who has been turnover prone this season, throwing 7 interceptions so far this season.
If Weaver is available, he makes a big difference in Kentucky’s pass rush and being able to set the edge defensively.
Hopefully Weaver is able to go on Saturday, and if he is, he’s a player to keep an eye on.
#5. Chris Rodriguez
What a difference the return of Chris Rodriguez made last week.
A running game that struggled to move the ball at all was rejuvenated with the return of one of the SEC’s best running backs.
Rodriguez’s numbers weren't spectacular (19 carries for 72 yards, 1 TD ; 3 receptions for 40 yards) but watching the game, you could see the difference in Kentucky’s rushing attack.
With questions at quarterback, Rodriguez could be relied upon even heavier this week against a South Carolina defense that’s allowing around 185 rushing yards per game.
Rodriguez will likely have his number called early and often, and if Levis isn't available or not at 100 percent, Kentucky will need a big night from #24 to get a win over their SEC East foe.