South Carolina is being mentioned as THE up-and-coming team in the East that can challenge for a December trip to Atlanta. This is an accurate assessment after its 2-0 start. Carolina beat NC State 35-28 and Missouri 31-13 in its first two outings. Both games have been played outside raucous confines of Williams-Brice Stadium which will be packed with 80,250 vengeance seeking Gamecock fans when the Cats roll into town. Kentucky has won three consecutive in this series.
Kentucky is hobbling into this game after unspectacular wins over Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky. Adding to the difficulty level is that its two top players are swayed by injuries: LB Jordan Jones and RB Benny Snell. Let’s be honest: UK’s offense has not played lights out by any stretch of the imagination, which has the BBN shaken going into SEC play. Saturday’s matchup has taken on a new perspective. Offseason prognosticators envisioned the matchup as a toss-up with the winner having a puncher’s chance to win the East. Now, most are predicting that Kentucky is in real trouble against the surging Gamecocks. UK will travel to Columbia and even put on its game jerseys, take the field, and expect to win. I don’t think the “no-chance” vibe resonates at the same level as it appears to be outside the Joe Craft Football Training Center. But, the Cats have much to improve upon in order to start the season 3-0. Let’s break down the opponent:
Television updates from Carolina’s opening game win over NC State implied that the Gamecock offense was a juggernaut; in fact, it was outgained 504-yards to just 246. A Deebo Samuel kickoff return for a touchdown and 14 points off turnovers significantly impacted the game’s final score. In its second game Missouri was also out-gained USC 423-359. For the second consecutive week it won the game with explosive special teams play, protecting the football, converting 8/15 on 3rd down, and utilizing TE Hayden Hurst in strategic situations in the football game. Carolina also owned time of possession 37:36 to 22:24.
QB Jake Bentley is rightly considered one of the best underclass quarterbacks in the game; however, numbers indicate that he and UK’s Stephen Johnson are virtually even in most passing categories. Bentley is rated 5th in the league, Johnson 6th. Johnson’s quarterback rating is actually higher 157-140 and has yet to produce a turnover. Bentley has thrown one interception. Regardless, he will be the best QB that the Cats have faced in 2017. While Carolina’s competition has been stronger (minus the Mizzou defense, which was/is so porous its coordinator was fired after two games) UK’s total yardage average per game is 345-yards compared to USC’s 302. USC rushes for 101 yards per game while passing for 201.
TE Hayden Hurst is arguably the SEC’s best at his position. He had 3 receptions for 69 yards and 1 TD against Missouri. This game will feature two of the league’s top TEs in Hurst and CJ Conrad. WR Deebo Samuel is dynamic and is deservingly edging into the Heisman discussion. The junior has 10 catches for 128 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. He is the Gamecock’s home run hitter and will present a dangerous proposition for the Kentucky secondary.
What the Gamecocks have done particularly well is protecting the football and not penalizing itself into drive ending series. A great deal of credit should go to a much improved offensive line, which is led by veterans Zack Bailey, Corey Helms, and Alan Knott. Will Muschamp has done an excellent job enforcing discipline and composure for a young football team with a sophomore quarterback. In simpler terms, South Carolina will not beat itself which is a tremendous compliment in football terminology.
|Passing||Jake Bentley||35/57, 402-yds, 4TD, 1 INT|
|Rushing||Ty’Son Williams||14 carries, 79-yds, 5.6 ypc|
|Receiving||Deebo Samuel||10 rec, 128-yds, 2 TD, 12.8 per|
|WR||Deebo Samuel||6’0, 215 Jr.|
|WR||Brayan Edwards||6’3, 215 So.|
|WR||Shi Smith||5’10, 179 Fr.|
|LT||Malik Young||6’3, 303 Jr.|
|LG||Donell Stanley||6’4, 317 Jr.|
|C||Alan Knott||6’4, 290 Sr.|
|RT||Zack Bailey||6’6, 311 Jr.|
|RG||Cory Helms||6’4, 309 Sr.|
|TE||Hayden Hurst||6’5, 250, Jr.|
|TE||Jacob August||6’6, 258 Jr.|
|RB||Rico Dowdle||5’11, 220 So.|
|QB||Jake Bentley||6’3, 220 So.|
Carolina is led by mike linebacker T.J. Brunson, the SEC’s second leading tackler. Fellow LB Skai Moore is back after taking a year off due to an injury and directs traffic for Will Muschamp. Moore is the unit’s leader. Defensive end D.J. Wonnum has been explosive off the edge by registering 4 TFLs and 2 QB sacks. Defensive tackles Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones anchor the interior and do so well. Both NC State and Missouri accumulated a high number of total yards thus USC is allowing 463 yards per game on the season. Due to opposing scheme, it also has given up 330 passing yards in two games.
Numbers that should concern the BBN are 13 QB sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Much like Mark Stoops, Will Muschamp has a defensive background and is considered one of the better minds in the game. Kentucky will be forced to become more creative to produce yards and points. First down plays will be critical. Even though its allowed 330 passing yards in two games, expect Carolina to stack the box and dare the Cats to throw the football. USC defense is fast, aggressive, and will assuredly be highly motivated to force tempo and aggression. “Multiple” is the only applicable word that can accurately describe the Gamecock’s defense. It will present unique fronts and coverages. The secondary features three seniors and one junior. It’s led by senior safeties D.J. Smith and Chris Lammons. USC often plays with a nickel defender, freshman Jamyest Williams, who is going to be an excellent player.
|Scoring||Allowed 20.5 points per game|
|Rushing||133.5 yards per game|
|Tackles for Loss||5|
|3rd Down||14/34, 41%|
|Tackles||22 total||MLB-T.J. Brunson|
|Tackles for Loss||4||DE-D.J. Wonnum|
|QB Sacks||2||DE-D.J. Wonnum|
|Pass Breakups||3||D.J. Smith|
|DT||Dante Sawyer||6’3, 275 Sr.|
|DT||Taylor Stallworth||6’2, 305 Sr.|
|DT||Ulric Jones||6’5, 312 Sr.|
|DE||D.J. Wonnum||6’4, 251 So.|
|SLB||Bryson-Allen Williams||6’0 230 Sr.|
|MLB||T.J. Brunson||6’1, 230 So.|
|WLB||Skai Moore||6’2, 218 Sr.|
|CB||JaMarcus King||6’2, 186 Sr.|
|CB||Rashad Fenton||5’10, 184 Jr.|
|S||D.J. Sith||5’11, 198 Sr.|
|S||Chris Lammons||5’10, 190 Sr.|
|Nickel||Jamyest Williams||5’9, 175 Fr.|
|Deebo Samuel||2 kick returns, 2 TD’s, 97.3 yards per|
Deebo Samuel has 2 kickoff returns for touchdown and averages 97 yards per return. Kentucky’s kickoff team cannot afford to have short kicks with little hang time on Saturday. If it does, look out. Samuel is that good and can change the course of a game within seconds.