This week South Carolina became a trendy pick to come into Kroger Field and defeat Kentucky. There was some heavy betting traffic coming down on the Gamecocks beginning on Thursday causing them to quickly become 2.5 point favorites. Boy, was that a miscalculation.
In their first game in the top 25 under Mark Stoops, the Wildcats pulled off another double-digit win resulting in a 3-0 SEC mark and a 5-0 overall record. UK was the better and more experienced team and they played like it on Saturday night. For the fifth season in a row, Kentucky knocked off the Gamecocks and have held Will Muschamp's offenses to 13 points or less in the last three meetings.
Before moving on to a huge matchup with Texas A&M in College Station, it's time to take a look back to last night and wrap up another solid performance by the Wildcats.
For the day, Kentucky's offense collected 327 total yards (195 rushing, 132 passing) with the Wildcats averaging 5.0 yards per play. Benny Snell led the team on the ground with 99 yards on 28 carries. Through the air, Terry Wilson completed 65% of his passes with an average of 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Still not great numbers but an improvement from last week. The team's only turnover occurred on a third down play for in the fourth quarter where Wilson just threw it up for grabs. The Wildcats were backed up and the interception essentially did the job of a punt.
The Cats got off to another slow start in the first quarter. After going three-and-out on their first possession, they immediately got the ball back at the South Carolina seven yard line due to a fumble forced and recovered by Jordan Jones.
The offense was unable to cash in, however, due to two consecutive false start penalties on second down. UK would have to take a field goal with the Wildcats blowing a major scoring opportunity. This cannot happen.
The next drive would be UK's best of night and would set the tone for a dominant second quarter. The Wildcats went 75 yards in 11 plays capped of by a nice pull from Terry Wilson on the zone read for his third rushing touchdown of 2018.
After another three-and-out forced by the defense, the Wildcats would march 80 yards on seven plays. This drive would be powered by efficient passing from Wilson and some strong running by A.J. Rose. On the possession, Wilson's two passes went for 37 yards and Rose would collect 39 yards on three carries. The most impressive offensive play of the night came on this nifty touchdown run by the redshirt sophomore from Cleveland.
Everyone knows about Benny Snell, but UK has nice weapon for now and in the future with A.J. Rose. In a backup role, Rose is averaging over seven yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns this season. He's going to have a great career in Lexington.
Benny Snell would get into the scoring action on UK's final touchdown of the night. After forcing a turnover, Kentucky went 61 yards in six plays and capped it off with Snell's 40th career touchdown. The junior went for 22 yards on four carries on this drive with the Wildcats delivering a huge body blow to the Gamecocks.
After running out the clock to end the first half, Kentucky had a very efficient drive coming out of the locker room. Terry Wilson completed three early passes and Eddie Gran was giving the South Carolina front a heavy dose of Benny Snell. The Cats looked poised to get six until two incompletions forced a field goal that Miles Butler would miss.
After that it was pretty ugly for the Wildcat offense. Kentucky would have five more possessions in the second half. One was a kneel out to end the game, the other was the interception, and the rest were three-and-outs. With a chance to salt the game away, Kentucky was unable to land a haymaker in the second half and that gave South Carolina life all the way until the later stages of the fourth quarter. Kentucky finished Mississippi State but similar to the Florida game, the offense was unable to land that one final blow in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky held South Carolina to 326 total yards (133 rushing, 193 passing) with a 4.7 yards per play average. It was a rough day at the office for quarterback Jake Bentley who completed just 50% of his 34 attempts for just 5.3 yards per attempt. The junior was sacked twice and threw three interceptions.
The Wildcats limited Deebo Samuel to just two catches and leading rusher Rico Dowdle had just 49 yards on 13 carries. That's an impressive performance.
Turnovers were the story of the day with the Wildcats reeling in three interceptions. The combination of UK's pass rush and great coverage were the biggest reasons for these takeaways. Derrick Baity's interception showed both the pass rush and the coverage working together for a positive result.
We'll get to Josh Allen in a bit, but it's time to give the secondary some major props. Starting all seniors in the back, Kentucky has the most veteran group in the country and is now proving to have one of the most talented. Darius West is continuing his strong play as he leads the team in tackles and the SEC in passes defensed. Derrick Baity had not been challenged all season until last night and he, at times, flat out dominated a strong South Carolina receiving corps. Mike Edwards is mister reliable and is a proven playmaker in both blitzing and man coverage.
Now over to Josh Allen. My gosh the senior has been electric. In each of UK's SEC wins this season, the future NFL pass rusher has dominated and made game changing plays in the fourth quarter. From the strip sack against Florida, to the numerous false starts and holding call forced against to Mississippi State, to another brilliant performance last night.
For the night, Allen had eight tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, a QB hurry, and a forced fumble. He gave Jake Bentley all sorts of problems and then recorded the final big play of the night with a sack fumble on South Carolina backup quarterback Michael Scarnecchia.
For the season, Josh Allen has 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks to go with 33 total tackles and two forced fumbles. He's playing at an All-American level and is the biggest reason why UK currently has one of the best defenses in the country.
Before the game, we mentioned just how important it was for Kentucky to stop the run because the Gamecocks will be quick to go one-dimensional. Although the Gamecocks kept their balance (35 rushes, 34 passes), the Wildcats were able to limit South Carolina's ground game.
Carolina ran for 133 yards on a 3.8 yards per carry average. On their second drive of the night, South Carolina used a gimmick formation where they lined their tackles at wide receiver. This caused some confusion for Kentucky and allowed the Bryan McClendon's offense to pick up 55 rushing yards on eight carries on their way to three points. Take out that drive and the Gamecocks only had 78 rushing yards with a 2.9 yards per carry average. That's getting the job done.
For the season, Kentucky is limiting opponents to just 4.5 yards per play and 12.6 points per game. Both of these rank in the top two in the SEC and top 15 nationally.
Thanks to the four takeaways produced, the Wildcats are now in the positive sign of the turnover column and have a legit top 2o defense. They are for real, Big Blue Nation.
The Wildcats entered the contest with what seemed to be a disadvantage in the third phase. After the game, however, you can not say that. UK outperformed South Carolina on special teams and it all started with Max Duffy.
The superstar punter averaged over 47 yards per attempt and each of his four punts landed inside the 20. He continues to be a legit weapon for Kentucky and one that really helps the team when the offense bogs down like it did in the second half. Lynn Bowden got his first big return of the year with 42-yard sprint in the third quarter. David Bouvier remains solid on punt returns and Grant McKinniss executed flawlessly in kicking short and away from Deebo Samuel.
Field goals remain an issue with Miles Butler missing a 43-yard attempt on Kentucky's first drive of the second half. In SEC play, Butler is now just 1/3 on his attempts and this is something to monitor moving forward.
On the other side, a Lonnie Johnson rush helped pressure a miss on a 38-yard field goal attempt by South Carolina. Kentucky came out even yesterday in the field goal department but leaving points on the board is never good sign.
There was a lot of worry about Kentucky coming in flat after the big home win last weekend, but this team played like a roster with with a strong level of maturity. UK was led by its seniors tonight as Josh Allen, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Jordan Jones, and Darius West each had outstanding performances.
After exploding for three touchdowns in the second quarter, the offense couldn't get anything going in the second half. Penalties and an inefficient running game really put the Wildcats in a hole. But it's important to remember this how Mark Stoops built this team. On offense, the Wildcats want to run the ball and own time of possession and that is exactly what they did against South Carolina. UK had no big turnovers and with the help of Max Duffy, they never put their defense in a bad position.
Sure you'd like to see more points, but they were not needed to win that game. Ball security and and field position was all that was needed in the second half. Plus, if you're offense is going to have a dud of a half, that was a good time to have one.
On the other side, Matt House's defense continues to impress. The defensive line is playing above their heads and the development of Calvin Taylor, Jr. has been of the biggest surprises for this team. Josh Allen remains dominant but Kentucky is getting excellent play from Jordan Jones. The senior Will linebacker is constantly knifing through the offensive line to cause run stuffs or put pressure on the quarterback. The secondary continues to play outstanding in both coverage and against the run. Now the Wildcats are starting to force turnovers and that is where this group can make a big step forward.
To this point in the season, the script has gone perfect for the Wildcats. Since the Southern Miss and Florida debacle in 2016, Mark Stoops is 19-10 overall and 11-7 in SEC play.
UK is a legit top 15 team and are now Georgia's biggest threat to an SEC East title. If the Wildcats can win two out of the next three, the matchup with Kirby Smart's Bulldogs on the first Saturday in November will be for a trip to Atlanta. There are a ton of goals on the table and now UK just has to go grab them.
On to Texas A&M.