UK ready for SEC East leading Gamecocks

UK tailback Derrick Locke gets pushed out of bounds by Auburn defensive back Mike Slade during Saturday’s game. The Wildcats faced the Tigers at the Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.Photo by Zach Brake

After losing on a last-second field goal to then-No. 8 Auburn, UK will have another opportunity for that elusive high-profile win when the Cats host No. 10 South Carolina this weekend.

South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) and UK (3-3, 0-3 SEC) are at opposite ends of the SEC East division standing, yet the Cats’ second-half rally against Auburn has UK coaches and players believing they can hang with the Gamecocks, who ended then-No. 1 Alabama’s 19-game winning streak on Saturday.

“(This team) can play with anybody in this league,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “Going toe to toe with the No. 8 team in the country and having a chance to win it definitely has to help our confidence.”

Confidence couldn’t be higher in the South Carolina camp now, as the win over the Crimson Tide was the first ever over a top-ranked team in school history. Moreover, the Gamecocks sport a 10-game winning streak over the Cats, and their head coach, Steve Spurrier, has never lost to UK as a head coach (17-0).

“Actually, I was (surprised SC won on Saturday),” said UK sophomore defensive end Collins Ukwu, who Phillips noted for playing one of his best games ever versus Auburn. “But it’s the SEC and anything happens, so South Carolina beat No. 1 and now we have to beat the team that beat No. 1.”

UK might have to try to beat the Gamecocks without the SEC’s fourth-leading rusher, senior Derrick Locke, who is listed as doubtful after sustaining a shoulder stinger against Auburn.

In the potential absence of Locke, Phillips said the Cats will lean on the tandem of sophomore running back Donald Russell and his “herky-jerky” running style, and freshman Raymond Sanders and his “smoother” running style.

Another probable option is that the Cats might run more plays out of the wildcat formation with junior wide receiver Randall Cobb lined up at quarterback.

“The wildcat package is funny,” Phillips said. “We got into the wildcat package to throw the football (against Auburn), and you line up in the wildcat package and lo and behold, there’s the run.”

Cobb rushed for 47 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries versus the Tigers, adding a passing touchdown out of the wildcat, too.

Cobb said that playing without Locke doesn’t add more pressure for him to perform so long as the rest of the offense doesn’t put too much stress on Russell and Sanders.

However, similar to the last two games, the final result might not be ultimately determined by how many points the UK offense can score, but rather how many points the UK defense can prevent.

South Carolina has weapons at all of the skill positions on offense, including tailback Marcus Lattimore, ranked fifth in the SEC in rushing and whom Ukwu called an “amazing freshman.”

Lattimore’s success running the ball has helped Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia complete a staggering 72 percent of his throws, which include 34 receptions by 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffrey.

“You now start getting one on one coverages, then people decide, well, we don’t want to come up and play press coverage on Alshon so let’s back off, give you the underneath passes,” Phillips said. “So I think their ability to run the football has definitely helped.  And, now, it is also a security blanket. When he does throw a couple incompletions, you turn and hand it to that big fellow (Lattimore) and his offensive linemen are getting a hat on a hat and he is running to daylight.”

Not surprisingly, Ukwu said that stopping the run would be key, and he believes his teammates can do it if they practice with the same intensity they did last week.

“What it comes down to is we’ve just got to go out there and play and find a way to win this week,” Cobb said. “We don’t have to worry about gameplanning, that’s on our coaches…we just have to go out there and execute.”

Injury Report

Senior RB Derrick Locke (Shoulder stinger)-doubtful

Senior DE DeQuin Evans (ankle ligament)-doubtful

Sophomore OG Larry Warford (back)- Returns to practice Wednesday

Sophomore RB Donald Russell (knee)-Returns to practice Wednesday