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An Update on Josh Paschal’s Recovery

Josh Paschal is one step closer to returning to the football field.

Malignant melanoma was discovered on the bottom of the Kentucky defensive end’s right foot in August.  After multiple procedures were performed to remove the cancerous spot, KSR has learned that Paschal underwent chemotherapy treatment.

Following the procedures, Paschal could not bear any weight on his right foot.  He moved around campus on a scooter for a few weeks, before upgrading to a medical boot.  Now he is walking without any aid from a medical device.

Paschal has been working out in the Joe Craft Football Training Facility since shortly after undergoing surgery.  There is no timetable for a potential return to the football field this season, however, if he is healthy enough to play in 2018, Paschal could be used in pass rushing situations in four games without losing a year of eligibility.


Stoops supports targeting call, will not appeal Daniel’s suspension

Stoops supports targeting call, will not appeal Daniel’s suspension

There is a divide among some fans over whether or not Kash Daniel should’ve been ejected for his vicious blindside block during a UK interception return against South Carolina. But his head coach has no problem with the official’s decision and will not put up a fight against Daniel’s first-half suspension at Texas A&M.

Mark Stoops said it never crossed his mind to appeal the call because he agrees with it.

“I support the call,” Stoops said Monday. “I have to because the way the rule reads — I didn’t even question it at all — if it’s called on the field and they review it, if there is any contact at all with the face mask, then it’s going to be upheld. So I support the call.”

(So you know, a hit doesn’t have to be helmet-to-helmet to be flagged as targeting, per the NCAA rules. You can read a detailed explanation of the rule here.)

Stoops will use Chris Oats, a true freshman, and Jamin Davis, a redshirt freshman, in Daniel’s place to start the A&M game. Stoops sees it as an opportunity for both after filling in after the ejection last Saturday.

“They played well,” he said of his young linebackers. “They did some good things. Chris (Oats) will get another opportunity this week and Jamin (Davis) will get some reps as well. Between Chris and Jamin, they’ll play the Mike and I’m excited to watch them play. Just like with an injury, we never want to see that and we don’t want to see our guys getting ejected and disqualified for a half, but it always gives the next man an opportunity to go in there and see what he can do.”

Oats and Davis have each played in all five games this year. Oats has six tackles in those games; Davis has seven and an interception.


The Big Blue Nation is starting to think big, and that’s okay.

Another day, another victory for the Kentucky Wildcats in this young 2018 football season. On Saturday night, the Cats took on South Carolina, coming away with a 24-10 victory to move to 5-0 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC.

Just a day later, Kentucky jumped to No. 13 in the AP Poll, just one of six SEC teams represented on the list. To put the icing on the cake, they sit comfortably behind just one team in their own division, the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs, as they do in the official SEC East standings.

It was a special night, a sellout under the lights against a rival opponent. Kentucky didn’t have their most efficient night offensively, especially in the second half, but the defense proved once again they are one of the best in college football. The Cats weren’t flashy, they just went in with a businesslike mentality and executed. No gimmicks. No trick plays. Just lunch-pail and hard-hat football, the same approach they’ve taken each game this season.

Leaving the press box at Kroger Field last night around midnight, there were still several hundred members of the Big Blue Nation in the parking lot keeping the party going. They had music blaring, people were singing, kids were throwing the football with their friends under the dim glow of the street lights, and fans were huddled around televisions in folding chairs catching up on all the night games.

Something just felt… different.

For so many years, we’ve heard the narrative that Kentucky is a basketball school and fans only used the football team as a way to pass the time until Big Blue Madness. We had “Caturday” and impressive crowds every once and a while over the years, but it wasn’t a consistent support. If we’re being honest, there wasn’t much for the fans to get behind, and that showed in ticket sales.

Last season, that support seemed to turn the corner going into the highly anticipated Florida game, but was crushed in an instant when the Cats couldn’t end the dreaded streak. Fans enjoyed the football season and backed Stephen Johnson and Benny Snell, but it was obvious they were emotionally drained from that devastating loss at the beginning of the season.

This year, they executed in week two, and that professional approach only continued from there. The fans finally had their reason to buy-in.

If you look at the success in the month of September alone, the Cats have won three SEC games, two against ranked opponents, each by double-digits. One was to get the dreaded monkey off the program’s back to end the streak in Florida, the next was a defining moment against an elite opponent in Mississippi State, and the third was to continue a streak of their own with national attention and praise factored in.

In each of those games, every question fans had going into the matchup was answered in convincing fashion.

How would they respond in a hostile environment with a new quarterback? Check. How would they respond to a physical opponent at the line of scrimmage, layered with NFL talent? Check. How would they perform under pressure with a ranking next to their name in a sellout crowd against a team chomping at the bit to end a streak of their own? Check.

Mark Stoops and company have presented a complete product to the Big Blue Nation, and fans are buying it by the truck load. They’re completely invested in the football program both emotionally and physically in terms of actually showing up. As a result, they’re dreaming big, and they have every reason to.

They have the fan favorites in Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Kash Daniel, Terry Wilson, Mike Edwards, and CJ Conrad, among others. They have the talent, depth, experience, and fun-loving players and coaches to attach to. They’re recruiting at an elite level and developing that talent into major playmakers on both sides of the football. And now, they have the victories to tie it all together.

With the landscape of the SEC East and college football as a whole, it’s impossible to ignore just how well it plays into Kentucky’s favor. Georgia still has dates with Vanderbilt, LSU, and Florida before they take on the Cats at Kroger Field on November 3. If they slip up in just one of those games, the Cats can still lose one before then to play for a spot in the SEC title game in Atlanta. Even if Georgia takes care of business in each of their three upcoming games, the Cats could win the tiebreaker with a victory over the Bulldogs if they go 2-1 in the next three games. Seriously.

At 5-0 for the first time since 2007 and 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1977, the SEC Championship is 100 percent on the line this season. Winning nine or ten games to play in a New Year’s Day bowl is absolutely a reality. Finishing in the top-15 as one of the top-two teams in the SEC East is expected at this point. When is the last time we’ve had that level of confidence going forward?

With Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State, and Louisville remaining on the schedule, you could argue the most difficult part of the season is out of the way. Win just three of those games, you have the most regular season victories since 1984. Win four of seven, you have the most regular season victories since 1977 at nine. Win five of seven, you do what has been done just twice in Kentucky football history.

We’re past the point of cute “what-if” theories, reality is there. By starting the season 5-0, the ball is in Kentucky’s court. They’re playing with house money. They have executed in the games they had to at the start of the year, and now they have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a truly historic season.

The Kentucky players and coaches are taking it one game at a time, as they should. But if they continue with their same approach and simply take care of business the rest of the way, don’t be suprised to see this national attention skyrocket.


Defense dominates in double-digit win over South Carolina

Defense dominates in double-digit win over South Carolina

This week South Carolina became a trendy pick to come into Kroger Field and defeat Kentucky. There was some heavy betting traffic coming down on the Gamecocks beginning on Thursday causing them to quickly become 2.5 point favorites. Boy, was that a miscalculation.

In their first game in the top 25 under Mark Stoops, the Wildcats pulled off another double-digit win resulting in a 3-0 SEC mark and a 5-0 overall record. UK was the better and more experienced team and they played like it on Saturday night. For the fifth season in a row, Kentucky knocked off the Gamecocks and have held Will Muschamp’s offenses to 13 points or less in the last three meetings.

Before moving on to a huge matchup with Texas A&M in College Station, it’s time to take a look back to last night and wrap up another solid performance by the Wildcats.

Offense

For the day, Kentucky’s offense collected 327 total yards (195 rushing, 132 passing) with the Wildcats averaging 5.0 yards per play. Benny Snell led the team on the ground with 99 yards on 28 carries. Through the air, Terry Wilson completed 65% of his passes with an average of 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Still not great numbers but an improvement from last week. The team’s only turnover occurred on a third down play for in the fourth quarter where Wilson just threw it up for grabs. The Wildcats were backed up and the interception essentially did the job of a punt.

The Cats got off to another slow start in the first quarter. After going three-and-out on their first possession, they immediately got the ball back at the South Carolina seven yard line due to a fumble forced and recovered by Jordan Jones. The offense was unable to cash in, however, due to two consecutive false start penalties on second down. UK would have to take a field goal with the Wildcats blowing a major scoring opportunity. This cannot happen.

The next drive would be UK’s best of night and would set the tone for a dominant second quarter. The Wildcats went 75 yards in 11 plays capped of by a nice pull from Terry Wilson on the zone read for his third rushing touchdown of 2018.After another three-and-out forced by the defense, the Wildcats would march 80 yards on seven plays. This drive would be powered by efficient passing from Wilson and some strong running by A.J. Rose. On the possession, Wilson’s two passes went for 37 yards and Rose would collect 39 yards on three carries. The most impressive offensive play of the night came on this nifty touchdown run by the redshirt sophomore from Cleveland. 

Everyone knows about Benny Snell, but UK has nice weapon for now and in the future with A.J. Rose. In a backup role, Rose is averaging over seven yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns this season. He’s going to have a great career in Lexington. 

Benny Snell would get into the scoring action on UK’s final touchdown of the night. After forcing a turnover, Kentucky went 61 yards in six plays and capped it off with Snell’s 40th career touchdown. The junior went for 22 yards on four carries on this drive with the Wildcats delivering a huge body blow to the Gamecocks.

After running out the clock to end the first half, Kentucky had a very efficient drive coming out of the locker room. Terry Wilson completed three early passes and Eddie Gran was giving the South Carolina front a heavy dose of Benny Snell. The Cats looked poised to get six until two incompletions forced a field goal that Miles Butler would miss.

After that it was pretty ugly for the Wildcat offense. Kentucky would have five more possessions in the second half. One was a kneel out to end the game, the other was the interception, and the rest were three-and-outs. With a chance to salt the game away, Kentucky was unable to land a haymaker in the second half and that gave South Carolina life all the way until the later stages of the fourth quarter. Kentucky finished Mississippi State but similar to the Florida game, the offense was unable to land that one final blow in the fourth quarter.

Defense

Kentucky held South Carolina to 326 total yards (133 rushing, 193 passing) with a 4.7 yards per play average. It was a rough day at the office for quarterback Jake Bentley who completed just 50% of his 34 attempts for just 5.3 yards per attempt. The junior was sacked twice and threw three interceptions. The Wildcats limited Deebo Samuel to just two catches and leading rusher Rico Dowdle had just 49 yards on 13 carries. That’s an impressive performance.

Turnovers were the story of the day with the Wildcats reeling in three interceptions. The combination of UK’s pass rush and great coverage were the biggest reasons for these takeaways. Derrick Baity’s interception showed both the pass rush and the coverage working together for a positive result.

We’ll get to Josh Allen in a bit, but it’s time to give the secondary some major props. Starting all seniors in the back, Kentucky has the most veteran group in the country and is now proving to have one of the most talented. Darius West is continuing his strong play as he leads the team in tackles and the SEC in passes defensed. Derrick Baity had not been challenged all season until last night and he, at times, flat out dominated a strong South Carolina receiving corps. Mike Edwards is mister reliable and is a proven playmaker in both blitzing and man coverage.

Now over to Josh Allen. My gosh the senior has been electric. In each of UK’s SEC wins this season, the future NFL pass rusher has dominated and made game changing plays in the fourth quarter. From the strip sack against Florida, to the numerous false starts and holding call forced against to Mississippi State, to another brilliant performance last night.

For the night, Allen had eight tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, a QB hurry, and a forced fumble. He gave Jake Bentley all sorts of problems and then recorded the final big play of the night with a sack fumble on South Carolina backup quarterback Michael Scarnecchia.

For the season, Josh Allen has 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks to go with 33 total tackles and two forced fumbles. He’s playing at an All-American level and is the biggest reason why UK currently has one of the best defenses in the country.

Before the game, we mentioned just how important it was for Kentucky to stop the run because the Gamecocks will be quick to go one-dimensional. Although the Gamecocks kept their balance (35 rushes, 34 passes), the Wildcats were able to limit South Carolina’s ground game.

Carolina ran for 133 yards on a 3.8 yards per carry average. On their second drive of the night, South Carolina used a gimmick formation where they lined their tackles at wide receiver. This caused some confusion for Kentucky and allowed the Bryan McClendon’s offense to pick up 55 rushing yards on eight carries on their way to three points. Take out that drive and the Gamecocks only had 78 rushing yards with a 2.9 yards per carry average. That’s getting the job done.

For the season, Kentucky is limiting opponents to just 4.5 yards per play and 12.6 points per game. Both of these rank in the top two in the SEC and top 15 nationally. Thanks to the four takeaways produced, the Wildcats are now in the positive sign of the turnover column and have a legit top 2o defense. They are for real, Big Blue Nation.

Special Teams

The Wildcats entered the contest with what seemed to be a disadvantage in the third phase. After the game, however, you can not say that. UK outperformed South Carolina on special teams and it all started with Max Duffy.

The superstar punter averaged over 47 yards per attempt and each of his four punts landed inside the 20. He continues to be a legit weapon for Kentucky and one that really helps the team when the offense bogs down like it did in the second half. Lynn Bowden got his first big return of the year with 42-yard sprint in the third quarter. David Bouvier remains solid on punt returns and Grant McKinniss executed flawlessly in kicking short and away from Deebo Samuel.

Field goals remain an issue with Miles Butler missing a 43-yard attempt on Kentucky’s first drive of the second half. In SEC play, Butler is now just 1/3 on his attempts and this is something to monitor moving forward. On the other side, a Lonnie Johnson rush helped pressure a miss on a 38-yard field goal attempt by South Carolina. Kentucky came out even yesterday in the field goal department but leaving points on the board is never good sign.

Outlook

There was a lot of worry about Kentucky coming in flat after the big home win last weekend, but this team played like a roster with with a strong level of maturity. UK was led by its seniors tonight as Josh Allen, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Jordan Jones, and Darius West each had outstanding performances.

After exploding for three touchdowns in the second quarter, the offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half. Penalties and an inefficient running game really put the Wildcats in a hole. But it’s important to remember this how Mark Stoops built this team. On offense, the Wildcats want to run the ball and own time of possession and that is exactly what they did against South Carolina. UK had no big turnovers and with the help of Max Duffy, they never put their defense in a bad position. Sure you’d like to see more points, but they were not needed to win that game. Ball security and and field position was all that was needed in the second half. Plus, if you’re offense is going to have a dud of a half, that was a good time to have one.

On the other side, Matt House’s defense continues to impress. The defensive line is playing above their heads and the development of Calvin Taylor, Jr. has been of the biggest surprises for this team. Josh Allen remains dominant but Kentucky is getting excellent play from Jordan Jones. The senior Will linebacker is constantly knifing through the offensive line to cause run stuffs or put pressure on the quarterback. The secondary continues to play outstanding in both coverage and against the run. Now the Wildcats are starting to force turnovers and that is where this group can make a big step forward.

To this point in the season, the script has gone perfect for the Wildcats. Since the Southern Miss and Florida debacle in 2016, Mark Stoops is 19-10 overall and 11-7 in SEC play. UK is a legit top 15 team and are now Georgia’s biggest threat to an SEC East title. If the Wildcats can win two out of the next three, the matchup with Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs on the first Saturday in November will be for a trip to Atlanta. There are a ton of goals on the table and now UK just has to go grab them.

On to Texas A&M.

 


Kentucky comes in at No. 13 in the AP Poll

Kentucky comes in at No. 13 in the AP Poll

No, this is not a drill. The Kentucky Wildcats jumped all the way up to No. 13 in the latest AP Poll, moving up four spots from last week.

Don’t believe me? Here it is in all its glory:

At No. 13, Kentucky is the fifth-highest ranked team in the SEC, with only Alabama (1), Georgia (2), LSU (5), and Auburn (8) listed higher.

Florida also jumped back into the polls, coming in at No. 22 overall, making Kentucky’s victory over the Gators in week two look even more impressive.

This is their highest ranking in the AP Poll since Oct. 14, 2007, when the Cats came in at No. 8 in the nation.


Kentucky moves up to No. 15 in the Coaches Poll

The latest Coaches Poll has been released, and the Kentucky Wildcats have moved up to No. 15 in the nation, two spots up from last week.

Kentucky joins just four other SEC teams in the top-25, with Alabama (1), Georgia (2), LSU (6), and Auburn (9) being the others.

Mississippi State also dropped out the rankings following their loss to Florida last night.

Kentucky, who jumped Miami and Michigan in the updated list, is ranked their highest in the Coaches Poll since October 21, 2007.

With a win over Texas A&M, who earned 31 votes in the poll, the Cats would earn bowl-eligibility and likey see a jump into the top-ten.


6 Takeaways from Kentucky’s fifth straight win over South Carolina

Your University of Kentucky Wildcats moved to 5-0 on the season with their fifth straight win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. There was a lot to like about tonight’s 24-10 win but also plenty to keep the Cats hungry moving forward. Let’s roll through it.

Kentucky was dominant in the first half

All 24 of Kentucky’s points came in the first half, and not all in the manner you might expect. A Miles Butler field goal got things going five minutes in and Terry Wilson and AJ Rose ran in touchdowns to put the Cats up 17-3. With five minutes left in the second quarter, Benny Snell finally rumbled into the end zone from four yards out to push the lead to 21. Benny finished with 28 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown, his 40th as a Wildcat. He’s now third on Kentucky’s all-time rushing list behind Sonny Collins and Moe Williams with 3,063 yards. Only two SEC running backs have gotten to 3,000 rushing yards faster than Benny: LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden.

It’s a testament to a player like Benny that a 99-yard performance feels quiet, but you wouldn’t know it from his mood afterwards:

If you’re curious, Benny needs 773 yards to break Sonny Collins’ record, which is 110.4 per game in the regular season, 96.6 through the postseason.

The defense carried the Cats in the second half

If the first half was fun, the second half was slow. Between the flags and a stalled offense, it felt like Kentucky was perpetually a step away from shooting itself in the foot; however, the defense came in and saved the day. Darius West, Mike Edwards, and Josh Allen stepped up and made HUGE plays to keep South Carolina from striking distance. Kash Daniel’s ejection for targeting in the third quarter was controversial — and will keep him out the first half vs. Texas A&M — but the team kept it together, shutting South Carolina out the rest of the game. In a stat that we’ll look back at one day, Kentucky has held its first three SEC opponents to a combined 33 points. That, my friends, is impressive.

Also impressive: Kash Daniel’s exit. Say what you will about the targeting call, but he left the field like a rockstar:

Can we stop and appreciate Josh Allen for a second?

Josh Allen will be a first round draft pick, but still, I feel like we don’t appreciate him enough. Allen was a monster tonight, finishing with eight tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for loss. Late in the fourth quarter, he went down and Kroger Field held its collective breath. Thankfully, Allen just had the wind knocked out of him, but in that moment, I think we all realized how much he means to this squad.

“I can’t say that I have,” Stoop said when asked if he’s coached a pass rusher like Allen. “I really can’t. He’s really a dominant player and he’s exceptional on his feet as well. Yeah, half the time I do want to look at, wonder why in the world I’m dropping him sometimes because he’s not blockable. But he’s dang good in coverage as well. He really disrupts things. He’s so good and comfortable on his feet and that’s where our length is helping us.”

So. Many. Penalties.

We’ve been bragging on Kentucky all week for pushing Mississippi State to 16 penalties for 139 yards, but tonight, the Cats got a little sloppy themselves, with 11 penalties for 115 yards. The flags slowed the second half to a crawl, and Stoops hinted that they will give his staff plenty to pore over with the team this week; in fact, the penalties were what Stoops brought up first in his postgame press conference.

“We could have finished that a little better and we shot ourselves in the foot and got a little reckless with some penalties and just a little bit of sloppy play or we really had a chance to put that away much earlier than we did.”

Do we need to worry about field goals?

Miles Butler was 1-2 tonight, hitting a 29-yarder in the first quarter and missing a 43-yarder in the third. Thankfully, it didn’t end up mattering, but should we start worrying about the kicking game? With Texas A&M and Georgia coming up, it’s only a matter of time before the Cats will be in some close games. Just saying.

The best part of this win? The team wasn’t satisfied.

Kentucky is 5-0, 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1977. Next week, they’ll head to College Station to take on a Texas A&M team that didn’t exactly look great vs. Arkansas. That should be huge reason for celebration, but Stoops said the postgame locker room was relatively subdued.

“It did feel a little different in there because we truly expected to do that. And honestly, I think we all feel like we left a lot out there.”

That, more than anything, should have you counting down the minutes until the Texas A&M game. As we’ve learned this season, hungry Kentucky is the best Kentucky.


Kentucky defeats South Carolina 24-10 in dominant defensive performance

For the second week in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats managed to blow out an SEC foe with the entire football world paying attention, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks by a final score of 24-10.

With the victory, Kentucky moves to 5-0 on the year and 3-0 in SEC play, pushing their current winning streak against South Carolina to five consecutive victories.

The Cats and Gamecocks traded field goals in the first quarter, but from there, it was all Kentucky in an impressive rushing performance and yet another ridiculous defensive display.

On offense, the Cats ran for a total of 195 yards, with three players rushing for over 35 yards. In total yardage, Kentucky squeaked by South Carolina by a final tally of 327-321 with the help of seven tackles for loss.

Kentucky star running back Benny Snell once again added to his Heisman campaign, finishing with 99 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. He scored his 40th career touchdown, making him just one of 20 players in SEC history to accomplish the feat.

Terry Wilson also finished with a smooth 59 yards rushing and a touchdown on a beautiful fake handoff at the one-yard line. He added 132 yards on 13-20 passing to go with an interception thrown early in the fourth quarter.

Running back AJ Rose also managed a touchdown of his own, scoring from 24 yards out on a tightrope scamper on the right sideline. He finished with 38 yards on the day to push his season total to 193 yards.

After a dominant offensive performance in the first half, where they found themselves up 24-3 at the break, things slowed down significantly for Eddie Gran’s offense.

To open the second half, Kentucky milked six minutes off the clock and put the offense in position to put points on the board on a 43-yard field goal. Instead of potentially going up 27-3, senior kicker Miles Butler missed it wide left, leaving the door open for South Carolina to drive it down the field for a score of their own.

On third and long on the following drive, Jake Bentley lofted a deep ball to star receiver Deebo Samuel, leaving the ball in the air long enough for Lonnie Johnson to make a play. Johnson failed miserably on the gamble, jumping too early and leaving Samuel open for the easy touchdown to cut the score to 24-10 in favor of the Cats.

After momentum swung in South Carolina’s favor a bit, Kentucky temporarily killed it on the very next drive as safety Darius West picked the ball off and returned it to the USC 37. On the play, Kash Daniel was called for a targeting call, pushing the Cats back 15 yards and leaving the defense without their star middle linebacker. The bad fortune continued, as the offense stalled out once again, going three-and-out to put the ball back in USC’s hands.

After a monster punt by Max Duffy to pin South Carolina deep in their own territory, Josh Allen got back to his dominant pass-rushing ways, sacking Bentley just outside of their own endzone on first down. The Cats made another impressive stop on the run right around the line of scrimmage, followed by a pass breakup on the sideline on third down to force the punt.

Once again, the Cats failed to convert on the great field position, deciding to run the ball six consecutive times on offense. Three penalties were also called on Kentucky, pushing them back to the 50-yard line for a 3rd and 40. Wilson tossed a deep ball to the seven, which was picked off by a Gamecock defender, basically the equivalent to a long punt.

South Carolina followed it up with a long drive of their own, trekking 71 yards down the field with their eyes set on making it a one possession game. When the nerves kicked in for the BBN, the Wildcat defense stepped up once again, as Mike Edwards came up with a massive interception in the end zone to essentially seal the deal.

The Cats milked the clock down a bit more with three consecutive runs to run it down to just 2:06 remaining in the game, adding another deep punt by Duffy to pin the Cocks down at the 17.

South Carolina moved the ball down the field and into Kentucky territory, momentarily pushing their total yardage past the Cats. Once again, any hope of a comeback was crushed by Jamar “Boogie” Watson and Josh Allen, as each forced a sack on the final drive. One final prayer was thrown to Deebo Samuel, but forced incomplete by the Wildcat defense.

Kentucky took over on downs and went into victory formation to finalize the 24-10 victory and push their winning streak over South Carolina to five straight.

Other notes:

Darius West led the defense with nine tackles (five solo), one interception, and two pass breakups.

Allen finished the day with eight tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one quarterback hit, and one forced fumble.

Jordan Jones and Mike Edwards, and Boogie Watson each added tackles for loss, as well.

West, Edwards, and Derrick Baity also finished with an interception, three of four total turnovers forced by the defense.

5-0 on the year, 3-0 in conference play, and yet another jump in the rankings expected tomorrow.

I like my team.


Scouting Report: South Carolina Gamecocks

Scouting Report: South Carolina Gamecocks

As we enter week five, Kentucky will take the field in Lexington for the third consecutive Saturday. The Wildcats have entered the polls for the first time in over a decade and now are playing for stakes. UK is clearly in the hunt in the SEC East and they’ll look to get to 2-0 against the division on Saturday night.

Nuts and Bolts

Will Muschamp is in his third season in Columbia and he’s quickly become a media darling. After a rocky tenure at Florida, Muschamp quickly turned the tide in the Palmetto State. The former defensive coordinator collected a 15-11 record in his first two seasons and had people drinking the Kool-Aid. A win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl created an offseason full of buzz with the Gamecocks entering the top 25 in 2018.

Through three games, it’s gone as scripted for Carolina. They’ve handled Coastal Carolina and Vanderbilt but were bullied by Georgia. An offseason of overreactions quickly turned the other way for the Gamecocks. Now they find themselves in brutal stretch with consecutive games against Kentucky, Mizzou, and Texas A&M.

Carolina’s goals are still on the table for 2018. Muschamp has an experienced offense and a fast defense. Drawing Texas A&M and Ole Miss out of the West gives them a chance to make a run at six conference wins. To do that, they must get through Kentucky.

These two squads have met 29 times with South Carolina owning a 17-11-1 series lead. After losing the entire decade of 2000-2009, Kentucky has beaten South Carolina in five of the eight meetings this decade. Most notably, the Wildcats have run off four straight under Mark Stoops. These victories were pivotal to the rebuild in Lexington and now the Cats look poised for a special season.

In the desert, Kentucky is a 1-point favorite with a total of 51. That’s a projected final score of 26-25. In their last eight home games as a favorite, Kentucky is 0-8 against the spread. Against South Carolina, Mark Stoops is 5-0 against the spread with three upset wins. As an SEC road dog at Carolina, Will Muschamp is 3-3-1 against the spread. In head-to-head matchups, Stoops owns a 3-1 against the spread advantage over Muschamp.

Offensive Breakdown

This past offseason, Muschamp decided to make a change at offensive coordinator as he relieved Kurt Roper of his duties. Under Roper, South Carolina averaged just 22.4 points per game. Muschamp decided he wanted to go to a tempo offense that throws the ball around and that’s what the Gamecocks have done.

After serving as the interim offensive coordinator in the Outback Bowl, Bryan McClendon was promoted to full-time and at the age of 34 became the youngest play-caller in the SEC. The former Georgia Bulldog is from the Mark Richt coaching tree and never had any experience with an a hurry-up offense. Muschamp needed a veteran to help mold the offense.

South Carolina hired Alabama off-field analyst Dan Werner. The quarterbacks coach helped create one of the SEC’s best offenses with Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss and his fingerprints are all over this Carolina group.

It starts with Jake Bentley who is off to a very hot start. The Alabama native is completing a career high 68% on passes and is averaging 260 passing yards per game. After a hot start as a freshman, Bentley suffered through a sophomore slump in 2017 but he seems to have gained some swagger back.

The strength of the offense is at receiver with Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel, and Shi Smith. Samuel gets all of the headlines and rightfully so. The senior leads the offense in targets, receptions, and has the ability to make a big plays. 

After being a September Heisman candidate last season before a season ending injury, Samuel entered 2018 as the biggest big play threat returning in the SEC. Through three games, that could not be further from the case with 7.3 yards per reception average. As a team, South Carolina is last in the SEC in plays over 20-plus yards. This group is just not producing explosive plays.

Bryan Edwards has been the team’s most dangerous wideout to this point. The former four-star prospect leads the team in touchdowns and is averaging 15 yards per catch. Shi Smith is a shifty slot receiver who can potentially be a very nice vertical threat. There isn’t much depth at the wide receiver spot for an offense that wants to go up-tempo.

At running back, Carolina has a nice three back rotation rolling through the early part of the season. Rico Dowdle is RB1 with two 100-yard games this year. Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner are smaller backs but have been more explosive in their careers.

The offensive line play has been better than expected to start the season for the Gamecocks. Carolina has two mammoths at tackle and left guard Zack Bailey is one of the best interior line players in the conference. This group has gotten movement in the running game and is doing an excellent job protecting Bentley. South Carolina has only allowed three sacks on 111 passing attempts. That is very solid.

Through three games, there is no question that this offense has improved. Bentley looks much more confident and the Gamecocks have been able to establish the run. The play-calling has been balanced as Carolina has 111 passing attempts and 106 rushing attempts on the season. However, if you’re able to stop the run, they could be quick to just go all in on the pass.

Defensive Breakdown

It didn’t take Will Muschamp much time to build a competent defense in Columbia but he’s doing this a little different. In the past, Muschamp’s defenses dominated up front and were very aggressive in the back. Often putting their corners into man coverage. At Carolina, however, him and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have built a bend-but-don’t-break defense.

In success rate (a metric that measures if you’re staying in positive down and distance situations), Carolina currently ranks 105th in the FBS. Opponents have had success getting the run game going and are completing nearly 70% of their pass attempts. These are some ugly numbers but the Gamecocks standout in two key stat categories that are allowing them to have some success.

On third downs, opponents are only converting less than 25% of the time. In the red zone, opponents are only getting touchdowns on 54% of their possessions. Add this in with the ability to limit big plays and the Gamecocks have your prototypical bend-but-don’t-break-defense.

The best player on the defense, D.J. Wonnum, is a a hybrid defensive end/linebacker similar to Josh Allen will be out for Saturday. That’s a big loss because he was one of the best returning pass rushers in the SEC. In his absence, Carolina has gotten much improved play from the interior of the defensive line.

Javon Kinlaw is a 6-foot-6, 305-pound defensive tackle who has all the potential in the world. He’s big, strong, fast, and explosive. After a slow start to his career, he’s becoming a dominant force as a junior. 

For the season, Kinlaw has recorded 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in just three games. He’s skyrocketing up draft boards and will be another tall challenge for Drake Jackson, Bunchy Stallings, and Logan Stenberg.

Around Kinlaw is a lot of youth. Kobe Smith and Aaron Sterling are both playing major snaps as sophomores. Due to the loss of Wonnum, South Carolina is using 6-foot-2 and 276-pound Keir Thomas on both the inside and outside. There are some depth questions but this is a scrappy front.

At linebacker, T.J. Brunson leads the way in the middle. The former Louisville commit had 88 tackles last season and can really run. Bryson Allen-Williams is back from injury and he’s another guy the coaching staff is using all over the place.

In the secondary, South Carolina has a really strong corner in Rashad Fenton who already has two interceptions in 2018. After that there is a lot for this group to prove. True freshman Jaycee Horn has been the most productive player from his nickel spot. Safety is a huge question spot with Steven Montac playing a strong safety type role well but he’s only 186 pounds. The Gamecocks have two transfers at the other safety spot and this could be a weakness UK could try to exploit.

In the loss to Georgia, this secondary had a very tough time getting off blocks on the perimeter. That allowed the Dawgs to pick up chunks of yards when they were able to get to the edge. With the way UK’s wideouts have blocked to this point in the season, that’s a big advantage for Eddie Gran’s offense.

This is a very well coached group but it is obvious that they have some flaws. The scheme will have these players in the right place but if Javon Kinlaw is unable to dominate it could be a long day for the Gamecocks. The best thing this group does is rush the passer as they rank 18th in the FBS in sack rate. UK’s pass protection will be challenged.

Special Teams Breakdown

For the first time this season, UK will be facing an opponent who has a clear special teams advantage. It all starts, again, with Deebo Samuel and his three career kickoff return touchdowns. 

Samuel is back to his old ways with a 26.3 yards per return average on three attempts. This will be something to keep an eye on and it’s worth noting that UK kicked away from him last season.

The return department is more than Samuel, however. Bryan Edwards has stepped in as the team’s primary punt returner and he’s done an excellent job in picking up hidden yardage with fair catches.

In the kicking department, Joseph Charlton is averaging over 41 yards per punt with a third of them being downed inside the 20. Parker White is perfect on field goals after missing 11 last season. The South Carolina kickoff team is producing touchbacks at at 73.7% clip.

This has been a very strong special teams unit through three games.

Keys to Victory

Through four games, Kentucky has been a very strong second half team. The Wildcats are outscoring opponents by a count of 86-13. Carolina is outscoring its opponents by a count of 38-33 in the second half. UK will have the advantage late in the game but they can not dig a deep hole early. Carolina has had early offensive success against each team its faced this season. Surviving the early storm will be pivotal.

-When looking at stats for both teams, third downs when UK is on offense and when Carolina is defense really jumps out. Kentucky is converting 52.% of its attempts against SEC competition while the Gamecocks are allowing opponents to convert at just a 25% clip. The Gamecocks make you pay when you are in third and long due to their success with the pass rush. Surprisingly, however, they’ve been very good on third and short too. What happens here could determine the game.

-The Gamecocks have one of the most efficient offenses in the country but struggle to produce big plays. Therefore, they find themselves in the red zone a lot. When they get there, touchdowns are only happening 57.1% of the time. Kentucky’s opponents are only scoring touchdowns on 40% of their red zone trips. Forcing field goals will be vital.

Kentucky’s rushing offense ranks 37th in efficiency while South Carolina’s run defense sits at 100. Their strength is rushing the passer so expect UK to lean on their ground game early and often to stay out of obvious passing downs. It should be another big game for Benny Snell. The Gamecocks will have success early but as they tire in the second half the Wildcats should run wild.

What the…???

Uga and Smokey aren’t the only live traveling mascots in the SEC. Carolina brings its rooster on the road. Come meet Sir Big Sir.