Wildcats seek to deep fry the Gamecocks for bounce-back win


Jack Weaver

Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) runs towards the end zone during the University of Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. UK won 16-10. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Coming off a 22-19 loss in Oxford against then No. 14 Ole Miss, Kentucky seeks to rebound at home against South Carolina.

The loss was the first of the season for the Wildcats, seeing the team go from No. 7 down to No. 13 in the AP Poll, but it was far from the typical straightforward loss that is so prevalent in college football.

No, Kentucky was not simply outclassed by Ole Miss in Rebel territory. In fact, Kentucky had multiple chances to win, and arguably should have easily defeated the Rebels to remain undefeated.

It would be a lie to say that the game against Ole Miss was the first time the Cats had displayed this tendency to shoot itself in the foot, and if patterns are to be followed, it likely won’t be the last time.

This is something that is certain to factor against the Gamecocks this Saturday, despite many UK fans writing off USC as nothing more than a bottom tier SEC team this season.

While, yes, South Carolina was decimated 48-7 by Georgia and lost 44-30 to Arkansas, since then the Gamecocks have defeated both Charlotte and South Carolina State 56-20 and 50-10 respectively.

While neither Charlotte nor SC State are even close to elite teams this season, they provided South Carolina with something dangerous heading into Lexington: confidence.

Kentucky enters the game fresh off its first loss and, while spirits still seemed high after the game, that has to play a role in the confidence of a team, while South Carolina will be well-rested, having played on Thursday instead of Saturday, and confident.

That alone makes the matchup more interesting than many are giving it credit for.

Now, moving on to actual on-paper numbers and comparisons, Will Levis will undoubtedly be the better of the two quarterbacks to take the field on Saturday.

South Carolina starts Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler, who is no slouch and is undeniably a talented passer, hasn’t been having the season he likely would have hoped for going in.

Rattler has thrown for 1,121 yards, just under 300 yards short of Levis, for four touchdowns, one-third of the amount Levis has thrown.

What paints Rattler in an even more negative light than having one-third of the touchdowns of Levis is his interception total.

Levis himself has garnered a reputation by many for throwing interceptions, despite only throwing four so far this season, but Rattler currently checks in with seven picks, nearly double the amount of Levis.

To frame that differently, Will Levis throws an average of three touchdown passes for every interception he throws, but Rattler throws nearly two interceptions for every touchdown pass he throws.

Moving on to running backs, USC running back MarShawn Lloyd currently leads both teams in rushing yards with 324, while UK’s leading rusher, Kavosiey Smoke, currently stands with 269 yards, though the comparison isn’t entirely fair.

Lloyd has played in all five games for South Carolina this season and, while Smoke has also played in all five Kentucky games this season, he isn’t UK’s main rusher.

That designation goes to Chris Rodriguez Jr., who has only played in one game, the loss in Oxford, having served a four-game suspension for the first third of the season.

Rodriguez Jr. recorded 72 rushing yards against Ole Miss and, while it doesn’t consider different defenses and schemes, if that number was stretched into five games he would sit with 360 rushing yards, 36 more than Lloyd.

In the receiving department, UK boasts a trio of deep threats including freshman Barion Brown, Dane Key and veteran transfer Tayvion Robinson.

Robinson leads the trio with 365 yards while Brown and Key follow with 282 and 269 yards respectively, creating a very difficult task of defending all three or risking giving up a 75-yard bomb with little warning.

On South Carolina’s side, Antwane Wells Jr. leads the Gamecocks with 309 yards followed by Jalen Brooks with 298 before a steep drop off down to tight end Jaheim Bell, who only has 121.

The Gamecock defense has also recorded four sacks this season and are likely to record more, with Kentucky having given up 19 sacks in five games, over three per game.

Unfortunately for USC’s defense, the Gamecocks have given up an average of 27.2 points per game, with this number rising to 46 points per game against SEC opponents.

Compare that to Kentucky’s offense, which has scored an average of 28.8 points per game and that’s a recipe for a lot of UK points in Lexington this Saturday.

Kentucky’s defense, on the other hand, has only allowed 14.8 points per game this season, 24 points per game against SEC opponents, while South Carolina’s offense has only been able to muster up 37 total points in its two SEC games, 30 of which came from one game.

Going off the numbers, it should be clear that UK is the clear favorite and the predictive metrics agree with Vegas putting the betting line at UK-10.5 and ESPN matchup predictor favoring the Cats by 76%.

That said, the momentum and prior results going into the matchup may play a role in the contest with USC looking to redeem itself with newfound confidence after beating up on lesser opponents.

Whether or not the Gamecocks will find said SEC redemption or UK bounces back from its first loss is to be seen, but it is certainly an interesting storyline heading into the weekend.

Kentucky and South Carolina are currently scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 8, inside Kroger Field with the game airing live on the SEC Network.