In week one, Kentucky won most of all position comparisons. Going into SEC play, here’s how the Wildcats and Gamecocks stack up:
Patrick Towles wasn’t as accurate as expected, but still threw 3 touchdowns. Over/under throws for potential touchdowns were a matter of 10 yards. UK was that close to a convincing win over a good football team. Connor Mitch struggled early and is making his first home start. South Carolina’s non-dependent upon QB production with Wildcat emphasis.
Running back: Kentucky
Starter vs. Starter advantage Kentucky. Boom Williams ranks 3rd in the SEC averaging 13.5 yards per carry after rushing for 135 yards against Louisiana. South Carolina’s rushing leader was its 3rd team RB, Shon Carson with 75 yards.
Offensive line: Kentucky
Cats rolled up 435 total yards and left at least 28 points and one hundred more yards on the field. South Carolina’s strength is in the run game and had to replace key starters from a year ago. LT Brandon Shell is elite.
Tight end: South Carolina
Senior Jerrell Adams is a 6’6 matchup nightmare. UK’s CJ Conrad was used more as a fullback in week one, but could take on a more traditional TE role in Columbia. Conrad’s blocking was non-freshman like and a key in Wildcat scoring plays.
Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper will be the best football player on the field. Kentucky’s is deeper and has more big play capable receivers.
Defensive line: South Carolina
Defensive ends Cedrick Cooper and Marquavius Lewis are defensive bookends. Defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin has 1.5 sacks in the opener. Kentucky had its moments, but lacks quality depth at key positions. Cats are led a pair of NT’s, Melvin Lewis and an improved Matt Elam. Corey Johnson returns from a one game suspension to add pass rush from the 3 technique.
Linebackers: South Carolina
This game features two of the best SEC inside linebackers in Skai Moore and Josh Forrest. Gamecock linebackers are all upperclassmen that’s played a great deal of football. Suspended Jason Hatcher won’t make the trip, Ryan Flannigan is still questionable. DJ Eliot’s options are seniors Khalid Henderson and Jabari Johnson then a bunch of freshmen. For Kentucky, this position’s aptitude will influence the final score.
Pleasantly surprised with upperclassmen JD Harmon and Cody Quinn, Wildcat corners played at a higher level than in 2014. True freshman Chris Westry’s debut was encouraging. South Carolina’s CB’s, Chris Lammons and Rico McWilliams were exposed against UNC’s athletic receivers. Kentucky’s receivers are equally as threatening.
AJ Stamps is special and an elite SEC safety. UK finally has depth at both positions as Marcus McWilson’s improvement was evident in week one. Kansas transfer Isiah Johnson added to the Gamecock defense. His running mate, Jordan Diggs is a big hitter. Overall, for both teams, this position is a program strength.
SPECIAL TEAMS: South Carolina
Austin MacGinnis opened the season by uncharacteristically missing a field goal and point after attempt. Carolina gets the edge because its best player returns punts, Pharoh Cooper.
SEC STATISTICAL COMPARISON (Thru 1 game)
*Note, SEC is a 14 team league
Total Offense (Yards): UK 7th (435), SC 11th (394)
Scoring Offense (Points): UK 6th (40), SC 12th (17)
Rushing Offense (Yards): UK 10th (178), SC 3rd (254)
Pass Offense (Yards): UK 6th (257), SC 12th (140)
Total Defense (Yards): UK 13th (479), SC 12th (440)
Scoring Defense (Points): UK 14th (33), SC 4th (13)
Rushing Defense (Yards): UK 14th (247), SC 12th (208)
Pass Defense (Yards): UK 11th (232), SC 12th (232)
What does it all mean?
Two evenly matched teams. For Kentucky to win, Patrick Towles will need to excel. South Carolina will force the Cats to beat them by the pass. South Carolina will run the football often and effectively. Numbers indicate that Saturday could turn into a track meet. A high-scoring affair may be the end result. As for all the freshmen and first-time players making their first road trip, the pressure will actually be less than what they experienced in the home opener. There was a great deal of emphasis in opening the new CWS.