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SIXTH-RANKED GAMECOCKS LOOK TO REDEEM 2010 LOSS, ADVANCE TO 5-0

John Loveday

By John Loveday || On October 9, 2010 the University of South Carolina football team defeated a top-ranked opponent for the first time in program history.  Worried about a potential hangover, head coach Steve Spurrier warned his team to put their historic win over No. 1 Alabama behind them.  Unfortunately they didn’t.

Then-No. 10 USC could not hold on to a 28-10 halftime lead and would eventually lose 31-28 to the unranked Kentucky Wildcats.

Marcus Lattimore injured his ankle in the third quarter and the Gamecocks were unable to put the game away without him.

Fortunately for Gamecock fans it seems as though this program has evolved beyond its reliance on a single superstar.  In fact after losing Lattimore last year during the Mississippi State game, the Gamecocks managed to go 5-1 down the stretch.  As this sixth-ranked Gamecock team (4-0, 2-0 SEC) enters Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, the chances of another letdown are considerably less likely than two year ago.

Over the summer, college football pundits predicted Kentucky would be among the worst teams in the SEC this season – and so far, all signs point towards the pundits beginning correct. The Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC) are currently next-to-last in the SEC in both rushing defense AND rushing offense.

Obviously, on any level of football that’s a deadly combination.

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USC OFFENSE v. KENTUCKY DEFENSE

The Wildcats are giving up an average of 29 points per game, ranking 84th in the country (out of 124 FBS teams).  And while there is no shame in losing to Florida – or to an improved Charlie Strong-led Louisville team  on the road – no SEC team should ever lose to Western Kentucky in football.  Over the past two games against Western Kentucky and Florida, the Wildcats have given up 32 and 38 points respectfully. The Gamecocks should be able to find a way to put up plenty of points in this one.

The Denver Broncos picked up one of best linebackers in the SEC last year in former UK standout Danny Trevathan.  Replacing his talent and leadership has clearly been difficult for the Wildcats.  Easily the weakest part of this UK defense is a completely rebuilt linebacker corps and a mostly new secondary.  Depth is also an issue across the board.  Look for USC and its improving offensive line to establish the run early and often.  And expect Connor Shaw – who was deadly accurate last week against Missouri – to find plenty of open receivers again this weekend.

As the Gamecock’s first four opponents have done, expect the Wildcats to zero in on Marcus Lattimore.  This should open up the play action opportunities down field via Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, and Ace Sanders among others.

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USC DEFENSE vs. KENTUCKY OFFENSE

South Carolina’s defense is currently giving up just 9.8 points per game.  That ranks the Gamecocks fourth in the nation – behind only Alabama, TCU, and Notre Dame.  South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward stated last week injured senior cornerback Akeem Auguste may finally return this week from a groin injury suffered back in August – and senior free safety D.J. Swearinger will also return from a one-game suspension.  As senior linebacker Shaq Wilson stated last week “I feel bad for Kentucky.” Two other players returned last week from suspensions – backup spur linebacker Sharrod Golightly and backup defensive tackle J.T. Surratt.  As a result, the Gamecock defense is as close to full strength as it has been all year.

What will they face offensively from Kentucky?  The Wildcats up-tempo offense seemed to be fairly productive until sophomore starting quarterback Maxwell Smith threw four interceptions against Western Kentucky.  To make matters worse, Smith injured his shoulder in the game and was unable to play against Florida last week.   In Smith’s absence backup quarterback Morgan Newton only completed 7 out of 21 passes for 48 yards with three interceptions against the Gators.

The Wildcats may end up starting freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow against the Gamecocks if Smith is not healthy.  But no matter who starts, the Wildcats will be hard pressed to put many points on the board against this Gamecock defense – which may boast the best defensive line in all of college football.

This is definitely not the 2010 Kentucky offense that was keyed by Randall Cobb – now a star for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

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SPECIAL TEAMS

Will we see the dynamic Gamecock special teams play that we saw against Missouri, or the poor performance we witnessed against Vanderbilt?  If it is the latter, the Wildcats might actually have the edge in this category.  Kentucky’s special teams play has been nothing to crow about thus far this season, although they do rank second in the SEC in kickoff coverage and fourth in kickoff returns.

PREDICTION

If starting quarterback Maxwell Smith is healthy enough to play the entire game, Kentucky may get on the board, but the Wildcats won’t score nearly enough to make it a ball game – resulting in a final of 34-10.  If Smith can’t play, look for the Gamecocks to get their first shutout of the season, 41-0.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. EDT and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.  The Gamecocks enter Lexington, Kentucky as three-touchdown favorites.

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