It just gets worse for Kentucky football. The Wildcats fell to South Carolina 54-3 for their third straight SEC loss. It also ended a treacherous stretch in the schedule of three straight top 25 teams.
Morgan Newton and the offense continued their woeful struggles and did not top 100 yards with only 96 for the day. Newton also was miserable through the air completing just four passes for 17 yards on a 20 attempts. Maxwell Smith threw two interceptions on his first two passes in the second half, and the Kentucky offense turned the ball over six times.
The game actually started as well as Kentucky could hope for. After losing the toss and kicking off to start the game, Kentucky forced a South Carolina fumble and took over possession deep in Gamecock territory. But after three consecutive running plays, Kentucky settled for a Craig McIntosh field goal, but they led 3-0.
Three points would be all Kentucky could muster against the vaunted South Carolina defense. They never even sniffed another scoring opportunity the rest of the game. South Carolina, on the other hand, was just about to get started.
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South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier sent out Connor Shaw in favor of senior quarterback Stephen Garcia. Shaw looked sharp from the onset, leading the USC offense down the field for an 80-yard drive that took just seven plays and 2:42 off the clock. Alshon Jeffery took a 20-yard pass from Shaw and gave the Gamecocks a 7-3 lead. It was all they would need, but hardly all they would get.
The Kentucky defense performed admirably, given the circumstances. While the offense continued to make appearances on the field, they were short lived. South Carolina had a 38:37 time of possession advantage compared to Kentucky’s 21:23. They forced some early punts and got their offense the ball back, but the Newton led offense hardly wanted anything to do with it.
Kentucky looked good putting pressure on the inexperienced USC quarterback, racking up three sacks. However, as has been the story all too often this season, the defense began to wear down and Spurrier and the Gamecocks took advantage.
As Kentucky’s offense fell flat, they looked to some trickery and creativity to try to catch the South Carolina defense off guard. None of the plays were successful, however. A halfback pass from Josh Clemons to Matt Roark resulted in an easy interception. They also tried a couple of sweeps and a pass out of the sweep, but to no avail. With nothing doing offensively, the game plan shifted to Newton and his legs. For the rest of the game, Kentucky’s best offensive option was to run Newton off tackle and try to pick up as much yards as they could. It resulted in a fumble, many hits on the quarterback, and most importantly, no points.
Shaw found Justice Cunningham and Jeffery again for touchdowns before the half and they took a 20-3 lead into halftime.
Kentucky got the ball out of half time, but the offense experienced more of the same. As Newton continued to struggle, Joker Phillips went to his freshman off the bench as he had last week against LSU to Maxwell Smith. Smith properly threw two interceptions on each of his first two passes he threw. He did not complete a pass while in the game, and Newton came back in for the duration.
The offense continued to have a lot of the same problems as they have encountered all season. Newton struggled throwing the ball and was erratic in throwing to his targets. Meanwhile, those same targets continued to see balls bounce off their hands and continued to not help out their struggling quarterback. The offensive line continued to not get much push up front to open holes for the running game, but they did improve in the passing game. With South Carolina’s strong pass rush, Newton was not sacked all day and he got rid of the ball quicker than any time at all this season.
South Carolina continued to pound away and scored seemingly at will in the second half. They racked up 34-second half points and got their backups plenty of experience off the bench.
Shaw was brilliant in his first start since South Carolina’s opener. He finished the day 26-39 throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns. The Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore had a solid day as well working himself back in coming off of an injury. Lattimore rushed for 102 yards on 22 attempts.
It was another game, and another beat down for the Wildcats as they continue to play football at a high level. The off-week could not come at a better time for Kentucky, and after they bye, Jacksonville State comes into town. It is a must win for the Cats at is their easiest game left on the schedule. With a 2-4 record, Kentucky is unlikely to be favored in any other game outside of the Jacksonville State match up for the rest of the season.