College Football Preview: South Carolina vs. Kentucky

The Wildcats enter Saturday’s contest with a 3-3 record and are winless in SEC play in three games. After trailing 31-17 at half last week against Auburn, something seemed to click for the Cats in the last 30 minutes. Their defense stood pat against Cameron Newton and the Tiger offense the majority of the second half as they fought back to tie the game at 34. Auburn ended up winning on a last second field goal, but Kentucky looks to carry their momentum from the second half into the game on Saturday versus the Gamecocks.

South Carolina is coming off of a 35-21 win over then No. 1 Alabama, which is considered the greatest win in the history of the football program. They now must turn their focus towards a Kentucky team that has not defeated them since 1999. Head coach Steve Spurrier is 17-0 all-time against the Wildcats.

The Cocks enter the game with a 4-1 overall record and all of their wins have come at home (Southern Miss, Georgia, Furman, Alabama). They lost their lone road game to Auburn, 35-27. In that game, Spurrier surprisingly replaced junior quarterback Stephen Garcia with freshman Conner Shaw late in the game, and Shaw threw two interceptions in eight attempts which led to their defeat.

Garcia has had an up-and-down career at South Carolina and Spurrier has never been hesitant about pulling him when he feels that they need a boost. Garcia is, however, coming off what many are calling the best game of his career. Against the Crimson Tide, he completed 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. On the season he has completed 73-of-101 of his pass attempts for 944 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He has rushed for 94 yards and has two rushing scores.

When Garcia gets himself in trouble he tends to flee from the pocket. When he holds his ground in the pocket and stands amongst the bigs to make throws, he is much more successful. This is exactly what he did against Alabama. He showed the courage to remain in a collapsing pocket and consistently found receivers.

He is capable of gaining yards with his feet, but he is is not a great scrambler. He often hurts himself and his team when he gets happy feet. When he scrambles out of the pocket he has often shown a tendency to force throws and make bad decisions.

His best receiving threat is sophomore Alshon Jeffery (6-4, 233), a name Kentucky fans are way too familiar with. Remember last season, Jeffery absolutely killed freshman Martavious Neloms and the rest of Kentucky’s secondary with seven catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns.

This year he is picking up right where he left off with 34 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. The kid’s combination of size and speed make him an absolute beast and the Wildcats do not have anyone who can match up with him one-on-one.

You know the stupid Taco Bell commercial that shows some idiot trying to eat some giant chalupa, but he starts to sweat, can’t finish it, Joe Girardi shows up and calls for Mariano Rivera to close out the clalupa and then Rivera says, “Yeah, for a wookie”. Well, freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore is pretty good for a “wookie”.

In fact, he’s real good. As a wookie, Lattimore (6-0, 218) is already one of the best running backs in the SEC. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, and last week he rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, who has one of the stingiest run defenses in the country. On the year he has rushed for 459 yards on 107 carries, good for 4.3 yards-a-carry. He also has eight catches for 81 yards.

Here’s a stat that quickly puts into perspective how good this Lattimore kid is. South Carolina has rushed the ball 76 more times this season than they have passed the ball. This is a Steve Spurrier coached team. He loves to air it out. But, even he realizes that their best chance to win is to keep it on the ground. However, on occasion he forgets and tries to throw too much and most of the time this leads to destruction.

When defending the Gamecocks, your first instinct is bring up a safety in an attempt to slow down Lattimore and South Carolina’s rushing attack. But, if you do that you leave Jeffery along on the outside with a corner one-on-one, which you can’t do. Without safety help, Kentucky’s linebackers and defensive line will have even more pressure on Saturday to wrap up.

I believe that Kentucky’s offense has the ability to move the football against anyone in the country. But, without the services of Derrick Locke on Saturday that task gets a little tougher. Especially, when you are considering a South Carolina defense that held Mark Ingram and the Alabama rushing attack to a measly 36 yards on the ground.

The Gamecock defense is also coming off a game where they sacked Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy eight times. The UK offensive line have kept Mike Hartline relatively clean all season long, and last week against Auburn they did not allow a single sack. But, the front four of USC will present UK with their toughest pass rush of the 2010 season.

This is an aggressive defense that moves around a lot in an attempt to confuse offenses. They also get a tremendous push from their defensive line.

South Carolina is allowing just 19 points-per-game and I think it is going to be tough for the Wildcats to put up much more than that without the services of Locke. Despite allowing 336 yards on the ground to Auburn and the freak Cameron Newton, the Gamecocks have been relatively solid against the run all season long and were downright filthy last week. The Tide had 36 yards and -1 in the second half.

Donald Russell and Ray Sanders are going to be good backs, but neither one of them possess the speed and experience of Locke. Look for the Wildcats to do a lot of their damage through the air. Remember, last year before he got hurt in the third quarter, Mike Hartline was controlling the game with his arm. If he can do that again on Saturday, the Cats will have a chance. Both Russell and Sanders will see plenty of action, but a lot of their time will be spent blocking instead of running, in an attempt to slow down the Gamecock pass rush.

Auburn had success against Carolina on the ground because they run a lot of misdirection plays with their quarterback. They stifled Alabama because they run the majority of their stuff through a true I-formation. The Gamecocks rush defense is a lot better at defending conventional rushing attacks.

I don’t think Kentucky will have much success with traditional running plays, but they could with some good old fashioned trickeration. Because of that, I expect a heavy dose of Randall Cobb in the Wildcat Formation. Remember, last year Cobb had all kinds of success against the Gamecocks until they got into the red zone and forgot to give him the football.

This is a more balanced South Carolina football team than they have had in the past. They are solid in the scoring area on both sides of the field. When they move the ball into the red zone they usually score and when opponents move the ball inside the 20, they usually find a way to at least hold them to three.

After downing the No. 1 team in the land a letdown is definitely possible. If this happens, Kentucky needs to take full advantage if they want to pull off the upset and reenergize their season.

The Wildcats should be able to move the football through the air and with Cobb out of the Wildcat. But, they will win this game only if their defense shows up. If it’s the Auburn first half defense they stand zero chance. If it’s the Auburn second half defense they will put themselves in prime position for an upset. If it’s somewhere in the middle, they’ll be right there at the end with a chance to win.

There has been a lot of talk about how tired of losing the Wildcats are. Apparently, Cobb set up another team only meaning earlier this week. On Saturday we found out for sure how tired this team is of losing and they have to do it on both sides of the football.

In the past Garcia has shown a propensity to make mistakes when flustered. If they can force those mistakes and turn them into scores, their chances of winning increase exponentially.

You will continue to see fight from the Wildcats and their defense will show continued improvement. But, their young defensive unit is not yet good enough to slow down a South Carolina offense with too many weapons. The Cats hang tough, but the Old Ballcoach remains unbeaten against the Big Blue.

South Carolina 34, Kentucky 24


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