UK sets new standard in win over South Carolina

Anthony Crawford

The 17-10 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks started with a rarity for UK football.

After starting the season being seemingly unable to stop the run and get any sort of consistent pressure on opposing offensive lines, it took just two plays for the Cats to break through into the Gamecocks backfield to collect a tackle for a loss.

That play set the tone early and it rang true for the Gamecocks’ first four drives as UK’s defense forced them to as many punts and looked greatly improved in doing so.

Then the Cats went back into looking like the team that ESPN Gameday’s Lee Corso said was the worst defense in the history of college football as they gave up a 10 play 80 yard drive to South Carolina. But fortunately that was the only touchdown the Cats gave up the rest of the day and UK players were able to have the last laugh on Twitter after the game.

Pressure on South Carolina’s quarterback Brandon McIlwain was as good as UK has done on a mobile quarterback in quite a while, limiting him to only 41 positive yards that were heavily balance with the 30 negative from the six sacks UK got in the game.

UK’s secondary still struggled as the team basically forgot to cover the Gamecocks’ best playmaker in tight end Hayden Hurst, who led both team with 84 receiving yards on seven catches. But even head coach Mark Stoops saw improvement.

“They were much sharper,” Stoops said about the secondary in his postgame conference. “Those were the guys that I’ve been leaning on because we need them to play better and they played a lot better today.”

The overall improvement from the defense stood out, but it may have not happened if the offense didn’t continue to work on its great balance that it showed last week against New Mexico State.

Stephen Johnson didn’t put up the numbers he did in his first start, but his 135 yards on 11-for-19 passing was enough when accompanied by the run game that UK had against South Carolina.

Stanley “Boom” Williams’ 123 yards on 15 carries was the quick jab UK needed to take control of the game with a touchdown in the third and Benny Snell’s 77 yards, 74 of which came in the second half, gave UK the closing drives it needed.

“When you got some of that inside stuff Benny’s really good at. He’s proven it now, not only in fall camp, but last week and then this week too,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “We also had some big plays with Boom, and right now it’s a good combination.”

Snell looked unstoppable for the Cats on the fourth quarter drive that gave them the lead and his running was crucial in the second half for sustaining drives in general, another rarity for the team.

It may sound simple, but the offense being able to convert, and to keep drives alive just plays into the defense having the stamina and mental fortitude to make stops on the other end when their number is called, and it showed against South Carolina.

The offense still needs to take better care of the ball and the defense needs the secondary to fully wake up from whatever snooze they’re in but at least the immaturity that forced Stoops mid-week rant towards the team wasn’t present, and that’s the only way performances like this might become the standard.