Kentucky defense “Ball’s out!” on Senior Night, forcing four turnovers


Kentucky defense celebrates a play during the University of Kentucky vs. University of South Carolina football game on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 41-18. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

As it did through much of the season, the Kentucky defense showed up in a big way once again on Senior Night, helping the Cats run through the Gamecocks 41-18.

Kentucky started off hot on both sides of the ball from the opening kickoff, not allowing South Carolina to get much offense flowing as the game began. While the Wildcats found their way into the end zone several times, it was the defense that put them in position to build their lead.

Three turnovers in the first half led the way. First, a fumble recovery by Jordan Wright in the first quarter set Kentucky up at the Gamecock 26-yard line. Two plays later, Chris Rodriguez trudged his way across the goal line from a yard out.

After giving up a field goal, two three-and-outs came sandwiched around a diving Yusuf Corker interception in the second quarter. The pick didn’t lead to points, but both three-and-outs preceded each of Kentucky’s next two scores: an A.J. Rose eight-yard plunge and another two-yard trip to paydirt from Rodriguez.

Finally, another fumble recovery by Wright in the half’s final minute allowed Kentucky to tack on a Matt Ruffolo 41-yard field goal, making it 27-3 at the break.

With under a minute to go in the second quarter, a fumble by South Carolina quarterback Luke Doty was recovered by Wright, who recorded his second fumble recovery of the night. 

Out of South Carolina’s seven drives in the first half, six of those left the Gamecocks scoreless and Kentucky went into halftime with a 27-3 advantage. The Cats gave up just 49 yards in their nearly flawless second quarter.

For a while, all was well and good. When a clock-milking touchdown drive from Terry Wilson and crew made it 34-3 with 7:28 to go in the third quarter, it seemed Kentucky would coast to victory.

South Carolina’s Kevin Harris was having none of that. The SEC’s leading rusher put the team on his back, breaking off 129 yards and a touchdown on seven carries over the next two Gamecock drives. He finished with 210 yards on 21 totes.

“He’s very good… he lived up to the hype,” Jamar “Boogie” Watson, who forced two fumbles in the game, said of Harris after the game. “It was a group effort for us to get him down.”

Another South Carolina score with a little more than five minutes left made it an interesting 34-18 game. But the offense put the game on ice on its next drive, and when the defense came back out, it capped off its outing with a third forced fumble and fourth takeaway overall.

The Kentucky defense in the first half looked completely different than the one that was shown in the second. Not wrapping up, being slow to assignments and allowing big yardage gains were all reasons Kentucky was hurt by the Gamecock rushing attack.

Normally we’d hear Mark Stoops harp on these things after a game, and he actually did speak briefly on the run defense’s struggles. But now that this harrowing regular season is completed, his focus was on how his guys gave him their all one more time.

“I just appreciate the way we finished up and the way we played tonight,” he said. “It’s not perfect but we played really hard.”

It’s TBD whether or not this will be Kentucky’s final game of the year, as questions abound around a bowl berth. Either way, it’s a game the defense can definitely hang its hat on.