The Wildcats had ample opportunities to win at South Carolina. They were the better team for most of the night. Kentucky left Williams-Brice Stadium with a 17-14 loss.
The Cats let a lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but still had a chance to win. Kentucky got the ball back on the 50-yard line trailing by three points with two timeouts and 2:10 on the clock. On the first snap Devin Leary was stripped from behind and the ball was recovered by South Carolina.
Kentucky did get one more shot, this time with a drive starting at the 20 with no timeouts and 57 seconds on the clock, yet the Cats failed to cross midfield.
The Gamecocks forced three Kentucky turnovers, including an interception in the end zone, to keep their bowl hopes alive into the final week of the regular season. Kentucky’s 14 points are a new season low for a South Carolina defense that allowed 21 against Furman, the Gamecocks’ FCS opponent.
Mark Stoops’ team has now lost back to back games in this series and five of their last six regular season games. Three games this year have been within one possession in the fourth quarter and the Cats lost all three. They’ll limp into Cardinal Stadium against a 10-1 Louisville team that clinched a berth in the ACC Championship this Saturday.
Another Slow Start
For the third time in four games, the Wildcats were shell-shocked in the first quarter. Whatever could go wrong, went wrong. Things got off on the wrong foot when Izayah Cummings‘ first down reception was negated by a penalty, leading to a three-and-out.
The Kentucky defense had multiple opportunities to stop South Carolina and let the Gamecocks slip away time and time again. Spencer Rattler was faced with a 1st and 15, a 3rd an 7 and 3rd and 15. Even so, they were seemingly unfazed all the way to the end zone.
Kentucky’s offense left the defense hanging with another three-and-out. The Gamecocks’ second drive looked a lot like the first until D’Eryk Jackson batted a ball away in the end zone to force a field goal. Kentucky ended the first quarter trailing 10-0 with more penalty yards (27) than total offense (7).
Bad Complementary Football at End of Half
These Wildcats struggle to get on the same page. Whenever the running game gets rolling, the Cats can’t pass. Whenever the defense creates stops, the offense fails to capitalize. That happened at the end of the first half.
A touchdown pass from Devin Leary to Barion Brown stopped the bleeding. The defense responded to the shot in the arm with a three-and-out. Aided by a late hit on Leary, the Cats marched into the red zone. Instead of tying or taking the lead, the Kentucky quarterback under-threw his target in the end zone and was intercepted.
Undetterred, the defense delivered another stop. A huge tackle for loss but the Cocks way behind the chains and the Cats got another three-and-out. Kentucky was a four-minute drive from taking the lead before half. This time Dane Key picked up the line to gain on third down, but was stripped.
Kentucky turned two three-and-outs into two turnovers. That’s the exact opposite of complementary football.
Second Half Response from Kentucky
The defense’s strong second quarter bled into the third. South Carolina moved the chains only one time in their first two possessions, then the Cats contained the Cocks. Octavious Oxendine had a huge sack to push Carolina out of field goal range.
This time, the offense picked up what the defense was putting down. A South Carolina penalty served as the Cats’ drive-starter. Ray Davis‘s sick spin move was the drive-ender.
South Carolina Retakes the Lead
The Wildcats’ offense had two chances to make it a two-score game and seemingly put the game away. They only picked up one first down in those two possessions. The third time was the charm for South Carolina, and once again all of the magic was made on third and long.
An early holding penalty gave the Gamecocks a 3rd and 15. They converted and used the momentum to enter the red zone. Kentucky received a gift in the form of an illegal blindside block inside the 10-yard line. Carolina got it to 3rd and 10, giving Rattler an opportunity to find Xavier Legette in the end zone to retake the lead with 7:44 to play.