No. 13 Kentucky toppled 24-14 at home by South Carolina


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Kaiya Sheron (12) runs the ball down the field during the No. 13 Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 24-14. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 13 Kentucky football (4-2) was defeated 24-14 by South Carolina (4-2) at Kroger Field on Saturday, suffering the second straight loss of the season.

The trouble started early for the Cats with the announcement that starting quarterback and likely first round NFL draft pick Will Levis would not play, coming out to team warmups in his tracksuit and a walking boot.

With Levis out, the starting quarterback duties fell to redshirt freshman and Kentucky native Kaiya Sheron, who would earn his first collegiate start.

Things would immediately take a turn for the worst for Sheron, with Kentucky going for a trick play to start the game that ultimately led to a fumble that South Carolina returned to the UK two-yard line.

One run up the middle later and the Gamecocks found themselves ahead 7-0 after just two plays.

“They brought a lot of pressure to a trick-play that should’ve been hit-or-miss, but it shouldn’t have been a disaster,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “There was three different people that probably could have solved the problem and make it not be that, but it’s the worst way I’ve ever started a game. It put us behind and set us up to play catchup and that’s not how we want to be with a young quarterback.”

Kentucky’s defense held sturdy in the quarter, allowing just 26 total yards of offense for the Gamecocks but, while better than USC, the Wildcat offense mustered up just 85 yards with two punts.

To make matters worse, Matt Ruffolo also missed a 45-yard field goal attempt on UK’s final drive of the quarter, hitting the ball off the left goal post, seeing both teams enter halftime scoreless after the initial score.

Things seemed to get better early in the second quarter when Kentucky forced a turnover on downs that it followed up with a touchdown, the first passing touchdown of Sheron’s collegiate career.

Two punts and an interception by South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler later and both teams entered halftime tied 7-7.

While the score was equal, Kentucky’s offense was 20-yards shy of doubling USC’s total offensive yardage, a testament to how strong the Wildcat defense looked in the first half.

The second half would be a much different story however, with South Carolina starting with the ball after deferring after the opening coin toss.

The Gamecocks recorded an 18-yard rush to start the drive before eventually recording a 42-yard passing touchdown from Rattler to Antwane Wells Jr.

Kentucky was unable to respond, being forced to punt from its own 44-yard line with just one first down between the kickoff and punt on the next drive.

What followed was a grinding drive by the Gamecocks, taking around seven minutes off the clock and concluding with a 32-yard field goal to bring the difference to two scores.

While far from looking good prior, the situation became dire when Kentucky recorded a three-and-out with just over nine minutes left to play as Wildcat fans began leaving the stadium.

Taking over on its own 28-yard line, USC first recorded a 45-yard rush and added a 24-yard rushing touchdown to bring the score to 24-7, truly opening the floodgates in Kroger Field as the once packed house quickly turned into a very friendly road environment.

Kentucky was able to muster a touchdown on its next drive, but took over four minutes to do it, trailing by two scores with under three minutes left to play.

The defense was up to the task and forced the Gamecocks to punt, but Sheron’s first pass on the next drive was picked off by USC’s David Spaulding, killing any remaining faith of the few remaining fans in attendance.

With just 2:11 left on the clock, a few runs and a kneel saw the Gamecocks run out the clock and claim victory in Lexington, earning their second win against the Wildcats since 2013.

The loss marked the 45th consecutive season in which Kentucky football lost back-to-back games, something that has become a thorn in the side of head coach Mark Stoops.

“I have to face the music,” Stoops said. “I tried like hell (to not let one loss spiral into two), I addressed it and tried to tweak a couple things to try to get their energy out, but we didn’t respond.”

The situation may be worse than just a bad game without the starting quarterback for Kentucky too, with wide receivers Tayvion Robinson and Dane Key both leaving with injury and the final head of UK’s wide receiver trio, Barion Brown, left the field with a limp, though he insisted he was okay after the game and ready to get back to work.

“I’m feeling good,” Brown said. “Just got my legs tangled with another player. We just need to get back to work. Big shoutout to Kaiya, he went out there and did his thing, we just need to fix a few mistakes.”

Kentucky also gave up six sacks on the night, over doubling South Carolina’s season total and bringing the Wildcats to 25 sacks allowed this season. UK’s 19 allowed this season prior to the matchup with South Carolina already saw the Cats 130th out of 131 FBS football programs in sack rate at 12.4%.

Sheron finished the game 15-27 from the field for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but the sacks saw the redshirt freshman finish with negative-24 rushing yards.

“I thought I did pretty good for the first time out there,” Sheron said. “I took a few unnecessary sacks, but that just comes with the first start. I think my ability to read the pocket is good.”

Following the loss Kentucky has one week to prepare for No. 23 Mississippi State, who is certain to rise in ranking after decimating Arkansas 40-17.

Kentucky and Mississippi State are scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 15, from Kroger Field with the matchup airing live on the SEC Network.