The 2021 Kentucky football team really does like to make the Big Blue Nation sweat.
Despite outgaining every foe in the month of September and usually winning the yards per play battle by a good margin, the Wildcats have found themselves in three consecutive close games.
However, winning ugly is better than losing pretty, and the Wildcats have set the table for what will be a very exciting month of October.
Now it’s time for KSR’s instant takeaways from the press box at Williams-Brice Stadium after another road win in Columbia.
Lack of ball security
There is just no getting around it. Kentucky has legitimate fumble issues, and they do not seem to be going away.
In the 16-10 win over South Carolina, the Wildcats put the ball on the turf four times against the Gamecocks and were fortunate to recover half of those. Once again, Chris Rodriguez Jr. was a guilty party. This cannot happen.
For the season, Kentucky has fumbled the ball 14 times in 12 quarters of football and has only lost six. The Wildcats must get the ball security issues cleaned up for the winning to continue.
Kentucky owned the line of scrimmage
Last week at Kroger Field, Chattanooga had their way with Kentucky at the point of attack. Both the offensive line and defensive line had issues and lost the overall battle with the Mocs. Both units were challenged this week.
Each answered the bell.
Kentucky’s offense rushed for 230 non-sack yards while averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, South Carolina rushed for 70 non-sack yards and averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt. This is a winning formula.
In the series against South Carolina, this has been a battle at the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins it usually comes out on top. Kentucky left no doubt who was the better team on the line of scrimmage in the matchup.
Fourth down defense
Due to being minus-three in the turnover column, Kentucky’s defense was put in a lot of bad spots on Saturday night. Three possessions for the Gamecocks started on Kentucky’s side of the field.
Brad White’s defense had all the answers.
The Wildcats were very good on third down holding Carolina to a 3 of 12 conversion rate, but the Wildcats were even better on fourth down. The Gamecocks went for it three times and did not convert once. That is tremendous.
Kentucky’s defense was the MVP of the game.
After the lackluster performance against Chattanooga, there was talk of a need for a hot start to get things rolling against South Carolina.
The game could not have started much better for Kentucky.
On the first possession of the game, the Wildcats marched 75 yards in 12 plays with an 87.5 percent rushing success rate. The drive was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown run by Kavosiey Smoke. After milking half of the first quarter away, Kentucky’s defense responded with a three-and-out.
Things got wonky for Kentucky in the last three quarters, but getting a lead early in the slugfest allowed the Wildcats to control the momentum and have complete game control for most of the night.
Despite the turnovers, Kentucky controlled the game thanks to getting an early lead. This is all part of the winning formula for Mark Stoops.
Matt Ruffolo delivers
Outside of the blocked field goal attempt against Missouri, there has not been much need for super senior Matt Ruffolo. The Ohio native was 17 of 21 on field-goal attempts for his career, and his team needed him on Saturday night.
The veteran delivered.
His 43-yard make gave Kentucky some juice going into the half with a two-possession lead. Meanwhile, Ruffolo knocked in a pair of chip shots in the second half to help extend the lead in crucial situations.
Quietly, Matt Ruffolo has become a very reliable option for the Kentucky offense when points are needed. This is a big and important development as the season progresses.