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South Carolina Gamecocks at Kentucky Wildcats: Virtual Tailgate

It's the Gamecocks and the Wildcats tonight on a daily-double weekend for the patrons. Can the Wildcats' improved play produce an unexpected victory today?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Virtual Tailgate for the Kentucky Wildcats versus the South Carolina Gamecocks. Like so many games over the years when South Carolina comes to town, it seems like Kentucky is in position to send the Fighting Spurriers home with a loss, but for a fact, that has materialized only once in the past decade and a half.

But we’ll get to that later. Let’s get fed first. As always, we’ll start with the cocktail. It’s going to be kind of nippy out there tonight, so to warm us up, we’ll go with:

hot buttered yum
Hot Buttered Rum

This thing is fairly simple, it just takes some hot water, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and a bit of vanilla extract. It’ll warm your bones and ease your pain at the same time.

Next, we go for the appetizer. Since we’re playing South Carolina, we’ll look to the low country for inspiration. How about:

oysters on the half-shell - closeup - 2014-09-09
Oysters on the Half Shell

Nothing to raw oysters but to get some fresh ones. We’ll have our buds from down Columbia way to bring us a bushel or two.

Moving on to the entre, when I think South Carolina I think:

Chicken and Waffles
Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles are just that simple — two great tastes that go great together.

For our side, we’ll stick with our southern theme:

Cheese Grits
Cheese grits

Me, I like mine with garlic, but some people prefer them without. So we’ll serve something that’s tasty for everybody.

Time for our beer. Every time I visit the low country of the Palmetto State, which is quite frequently nowadays, I always have me as much of this as I can get:

Yuengling Lager
Yuengling beer

I love me some Yuengling, and for some reason, it’s everywhere in South Carolina. It’s mighty hard to find around Louisville, though.

Okay, now that we’re fed and have bit of social lubricant, let’s talk about this football game. South Carolina comes into the game having already dropped two SEC games, but still is in a place where the SEC East title is possible, if somewhat unlikely. It would be very unlikely if they come into Commonwealth Stadium and lose their second straight SEC game, have stumbled in Columbia, Missouri last weekend.

The Gamecocks are likely to be smarting for this game, and Kentucky is confident and excited. That provides the kind of backdrop required for a very competitive football game. They will be looking to avoid any kind of hangover from the Missouri disappointment, and I expect a heavy dose of Mike Davis early in this game. Dylan Thompson has been solid if unspectacular in this young season, and with Kentucky’s improved secondary, I suspect the Gamecocks will want to force the safeties closer to the box and wary of the run before throwing a lot of passes. South Carolina will want to wear Kentucky’s defensive line down as much as possible, because they still have a bigger, deeper, more talented line than Kentucky.

Defensively, South Carolina has to be careful. Their secondary is young and inexperienced, and has put them 12th in pass defense, although to be fair, a lot of that yardage was piled up by Texas A&M in the first game of the season. Throw that game out, and they are closer to the middle of the league, but they are still vulnerable. You can expect some blitzes early and often to try to get Kentucky defensive on passing downs.

The key to this game for Kentucky is the running game. If they are able to establish a quality running game, they will get the kind of opportunities on second and short that you crave as an offensive coordinator to take shots down the field at this softer-than-normal Gamecock defensive secondary. If Patrick Towles can get some time in the pocket, I like Kentucky’s chances at some big plays, and if Kentucky can put up 21 points or so in this game, I think they can be very competitive and even win the game.

In the end, I expect it to come down to the little things, like special teams and penalties. UK seems to be getting better every game at avoiding drive-killing penalties in the early downs, and field-goal kicking and punting have been pretty fair of late. Finally, turnovers could well decide the game. Kentucky has an advantage in turnover margin right now, but the last game against Vanderbilt showed how that can change quickly. Having said that, the Wildcats are doing a good job taking the ball away, and if they can do that today, I think they have a chance to win.

Go, ‘Cats!