Stoops' 10: No. 9 Tongues Out in the Sandstorm

Stoops' 10: No. 9 Tongues Out in the Sandstorm

Brent Wainscottabout 2 years


Aritcle written by:Brent WainscottBrent Wainscott

Todd Bennett | Getty Images

On the ninth day of the countdown to kickoff, Mark Stoops gives us another victory in Columbia, South Carolina.

This victory capped off a three-game stretch to build momentum for the Florida game the following week and brought optimism back to the forefront for Kentucky football fans. This game also brought a newfound trust for Stephen Johnson, in what would be the first of many games that cemented his legacy at UK.

No. 9: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13- September 16th, 2017

Before the season started many fans were looking at Kentucky’s schedule and noticed the lead up to the big time Florida game. Once again, the biggest obstacle before another attempt at ending the streak came the week before in the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Most fans looked at the schedule and saw a road game at Southern Miss — a team we lost to a year before — and a road game at South Carolina and leveled with the thought of going 2-1 into a rocking Kroger Field to attempt to snap the streak.

This comes after a season in which Mark Stoops finally found his playmakers in a season that ended the bowl drought. Benny Snell, Juice Johnson, and Stephen Johnson stood out on the offense, while four studs led the way on defense; Jordan Jones, Mike Edwards, Josh Allen, and Denzil Ware.

The schedule lined up for a spectacular season if they could just somehow start the season 3-0. But with the whole nation fixated on Deebo Samuel, and South Carolina coming off a blow-out victory against Missouri, the Gamecocks had hopes of being a dark horse in the SEC East.

After losing three straight to Kentucky, the blacked-out Williams-Brice Stadium wanted revenge on the Cats.

The Disastrous Start

South Carolina received the ball to start the game, hoping to electrify the sold-out Williams-Brice stadium with a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and boy, did they ever. On the opening play of the game, Jake Bentley in his first of 12 starts against the Wildcats hit Deebo Samuel with a dart on a play-action slant that he would take 68-yards to the house and that place went bezerk.

On the ensuing drive for the Cats, Stephen Johnson threw an interception to Skai Moore on the very first play of scrimmage. With Kentucky down 6-0 and South Carolina starting on Kentucky’s 35 in that environment, pessimism fell across the commonwealth.

After a false start put South Carolina in a tough position, Kentucky’s offense was bailed out by a missed 52-yard field goal. The Cats had their chance to get back in the game.

However, a bad snap causing a fumble put the Wildcats in yet another tough spot. It was time for the defense to leave their mark on the game.

The Defensive Response

Jeff Blake | USA Today

After being put in yet another tough position, Kentucky’s defense had risen to the occasion to keep the Cats in the game. Not only did they keep Kentucky in it, they completely shut down the Gamecock offense the rest of the game.

It started with an amazing interception when Kendall Randolph broke up a one-on-one pass and Mike Edwards came flying in to snag it inches above the turf.

That interception ignited the Kentucky defense.

Following the Mike Edwards pick, the Cats forced the Gamecocks to go three and out on the next two possessions, and forcing a nine-play drive to stall out resulting in a punt.

Then superman took over.

Stephen Johnson Takes Over

After a less-than-ideal start to the game, midway through the first quarter Stephen Johnson decided to make this game his. After Kentucky’s defense forced the first three and out, Stephen Johnson picked apart the South Carolina defense going 6/6 for 56 yards getting the Cats to the five-yard line.

Stoops put Snell in the Wildcat to punch it in to give Kentucky their first lead of the game. A lead they wouldn’t surrender.

The next offensive possession Johnson wasn’t as prolific, but he made the biggest play of the drive when he dumped a middle screen off for CJ Conrad, that took them to the goal line to allow Benny Snell to punch it once again. Kentucky led 14-6.

Then, when Kentucky needed Stephen Johnson again to convert on a 3rd&10 to extend the lead to double digits, he did it, finding Tavin Richardson to put Kentucky in field goal range.

However, that play wouldn’t have been set up without…

Two Fourth Downs and a Goal Line

After not scoring since the first play of the game, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks were getting desperate.

On a 4th&1 at midfield on their first drive of the second half, Muschamp decided to trot his offense back on the field to pick up the first down in hopes of igniting his offense.

Jake Bentley handed the ball off to AJ turner only to be stopped at the line of scrimmage setting Kentucky up in great field position. Kentucky would capitalize on that field position with an Austin MacGinnis field goal to extend their lead to two possessions.

On South Carlina’s very next offensive possession, they once again desperately need a score.

Down 17-6 in the late stages of the third quarter, Jake Bentley and the Gamecock offense drove the ball all the way down to the goal line. On 3rd&1, Jake Bentley couldn’t find anyone open so he tried to make it to the pylon and got denied at the one.

Once again Muschamp trotted his offense back out there to get seven on the board.

On 4th&1, Bentley handed the ball to Dowdle. As Dowdle tried to make that one cut to get into the endzone Derrick Baity gobbled him up to allow Kentucky to hold on to their 17-6 lead.

The Icing on the Cake

After an amazing goal-line stand to start the fourth quarter, it was in the hands of Stephen Johnson and company to ice the game away.

On 1st & 10 after a pass interference gave Kentucky the automatic first down, Stephen Johnson decided to pull the ball from Benny Snell for a 22-yard scamper to put Kentucky in field goal range making for one of the many iconic Stephen johnson pictures.

Todd Bennett | Getty Images

Benny Snell would pound out a few more yards to allow Austin MacGinnis to split the uprights to extend Kentucky’s lead to 20-6.

South Carolina had a quick 77-yard drive to respond with a touchdown to cut Kentucky’s lead down to one possession. As Kentucky fans, we could see the comeback coming. Of course, after dominating South Carolina’s offense all game we just knew the Gamecocks were going to come back and beat us.

Stephen Johnson had other plans.

On 3rd&8 in South Carolina territory with a little under four minutes to play, Stephen Johnson dropped back trying to convert once again. After realizing South Carolina was bringing the heat, Johson quickly tucked the ball and went for a 54-yard run to put Kentucky in field goal range once again and kill any momentum South Carolina had left.

MacGinnis would put the game out of reach a few plays later as Kentucky would take the game in Colombia for the second straight trip beating South Carolina 23-13.

The Aftermath

Sort of like the first game on the list, the events following this game lessened the effect of the victory. Kentucky would *sigh* not cover the receiver twice to lose to Florida the following week en route to a second straight bowl season. However, this game would solidify that Kentucky had surpassed South Carolina in the SEC East.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Kentucky will put that mantle on the line when the Cats take the trip down to Columbia on September 28th.

The theme with both of these games against South Carolina has been the stellar play of a breakout defense. Hopefully this year, the secondary will have their breakout moment in Columbia.

Oh yeah, side note, we got a pretty good gif out of this game as well.

Check out the other games in our countdown to kickoff series:

No. 10: Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22- September 12, 2015.

Follow me on Twitter to keep up with the countdown to kickoff series: @BrentW_KSR

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