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Both South Carolina and Kentucky enter tonight’s game as programs experiencing a little bit of unrest. The Gamecocks recently fired Head Coach Will Muschamp and have had several players opt-out throughout the course of the season. In Lexington, Kelvin Joseph opted-out to prepare for the NFL Draft and the fan base is angry after two straight blowout losses to Alabama and Florida.
Regardless of the current state of each program, we have one more game to play in this all-SEC 2020 schedule. South Carolina is 2-7 after losing five straight games while Kentucky is 3-6 and looking for their sixth win in the last seven seasons against the Gamecocks.
Tonight, under the lights, Kentucky will honor a Senior class that has experienced a good deal of success despite a disappointing final season. I am excited to get to be at Kroger Field tonight braving the cold to give these guys a huge round of applause as they walk off the field for the final time. They deserve it.
Dumpster Fire in Columbia
Normally we like to keep things on the field when we are handing out some facts to know about the opposing team, but when getting to know the Gamecocks you have to understand what is going on out there.
Head Coach Will Muschamp was fired after their November 14th loss at Ole Miss despite a massive buyout. Muschamp had got just 13-19 in his last 32 games including a 9-14 record in the Southeastern Conference. Right or wrong, that does not live up to the expectations of South Carolina fans.
Along with firing their Head Coach, it has been a constant run of opt-outs for the Gamecocks which has really drained their talent pool. Just in the last week alone three members of their talented secondary decided to go ahead and focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. South Carolina will feature just two defensive starters from the beginning of the season.
Overall, the attrition on both sides of the ball, but specifically the defense, has taken the situation at South Carolina from bad to worse. Things aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows right now in Lexington, but the Gamecocks have it far worse as we close out this crazy 2020 season.
Reliance on the Running Game
After a solid True Freshman season, Sophomore Running Back Kevin Harris (#20) burst onto the scene in Columbia this year after an injury to MarShawn Lloyd. Harris currently leads the SEC in rushing yards with 928, just ahead of Alabama’s Najee Harris (893). Kevin Harris has also found the end zone 14 times on the ground which is second in the conference behind Najee Harris.
As Adam Luckett pointed out in his Scouting Report, it has been a bit of feast or famine for Harris this season despite is eye-popping numbers. He has produced eight rushes over 20 yards or more but has also been stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage on one-fifth of his rushes. Kentucky’s front seven should be able to force the Gamecocks to play behind the chains some tonight.
Shi Smith is Good to Go
The prolific Senior Wideout has cleared concussion protocol and is expected to suit up to finish off the 2020 season against the Wildcats. Despite missing their game last week against Georgia and catching just one ball before leaving the game against Missouri, Shi Smith is third in the SEC in receptions with 54 and ranks fourth with 605 receiving yards. When South Carolina throws the be ball outside it is almost exclusively going to Smith. Only Tight End Nick Muse and Running Back Kevin Harris consistently factor in to the passing game along with Smith.
South Carolina has had a Quarterback change this season and has really struggled to find success through the air, but Shi Smith has been the lone bright spot. His availability tonight will give the Gamecocks a little bit of hope that they can move the ball down the field against this Kentucky defense.
Luke Doty (#4) has taken over the reigns at Quarterback and produced a productive stat line against a great Georgia defense in his first career start. A Top-100 recruit that stayed home to play for South Carolina, Doty went 18-22 with 190 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Doty is an excellent athlete that could hurt Kentucky with his legs, but he hasn’t really found a ton of running lanes this season. He gained just 24 yards on 15 carries and took three sacks against Georgia. Overall this season he has gained 109 yards on 31 rush attempts. Regardless of what the stats may say, Kentucky must contain Doty in the pocket and not allow him to extend drives with his legs.
Defensive Attrition Creates Big Holes
Three opt-outs in the Secondary along with two other elite defensive players being ruled out leaves an already suspect South Carolina defense with very little talent. Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu are certain early NFL Draft picks while Ernst Jones is the team’s leading tackler and J.J. Enagbare is the SEC’s sack leader. That type of production is going to be impossible to replace.
Three times this season the Gamecocks defense has allowed 250 or more yards rushing including getting gashed for 351 yards on the ground last week against Georgia. The running game is obviously the strength of the Kentucky offense so this should be an excellent opportunity for the ‘Cats to end the 2020 regular season on a high note on the ground. The return of star Running Back Chris Rodriguez will do nothing but help that cause.