King: Bluegrass showdown

After a four-game homestand, the Gamecocks will go on the road to take on a feisty Kentucky team that stole a victory the last time the two teams met in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky Preview

Game: South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Date: September 29th, 2012
Location: Commonwealth Stadium (Lexington, KY)

Ready. Set. Go back.

Over the past two years South Carolina is 9-1 against the SEC East. 9-1 in a league that includes Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. 9-1 in a place the Gamecocks were told they could never find continual success.

That one loss – however – was a painful one. Fresh off the biggest win in program history against Alabama, the Gamecocks went into Lexington and stumbled against a Wildcat team they had no business losing to.

That win hurt every fan in Gamecock Nation, but it hurt the team even worse.

In 2011 the Gamecocks extracted their revenge to the tune of a 53-3 beat down that featured the introduction of Connor Shaw to the world, the only full game in which Shaw and Lattimore played together, and the most dominant performance the Gamecocks have had against another SEC team ever.

That 2011 Kentucky squad wasn’t anything to fear, but it wasn’t anything to laugh at either. Fairly strong on the defensive side of the ball in 2011, the Wildcats gave up less than 24 points and 400 yards a game. That was good for 10th in the conference last year, but in the top half from a national standpoint. The 2011 team actually fielded a better defense than the 2010 squad that managed to beat the Gamecocks - 94th to 68th in rushing defense, and 53rd to 44th against the pass.

Not great, but not putrid either.

Unfortunately for Big Blue Nation, its offense tended to give more for opposing fans to laugh about than for Wildcat fans to cheer for. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9OGaz28aYE)

OK, so maybe it wasn’t all THAT bad, but Kentucky struggled throughout the season and never really seemed to hit any type of a stride. Their “quarterback of the future” Morgan Newton (793 passing yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs in 2011) was eventually benched after multiple lackluster performances in favor of Max Smith (819 passing yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs in 2011). The offense as a whole was nothing short of abysmal, as the Wildcats were third to last in the country with only 260 yards per game on offense. Through the air they only managed 135 yards, and on the ground even less at 124 – also only managing to score more than 17 points in 3 games all season!

Kentucky just never seemed to find anything that worked and looked like a team that didn’t get a chance to gel and develop that rhythm that is so importance on the offensive side of the ball.

Kentucky did end the season on a high note however, finally beating Tennessee for the first time in 26 years. You have to give Kentucky’s coaching staff points for being creative too (or maybe desperate is a better word) as they put a receiver behind center who threw for a total of 15 yards but did manage to gain 124 on the ground.

Clearly Joker Phillips has been playing some NCAA Football video games.

Boy, that must have been quite an exciting time in Lexington, and the raucous crowd that was there to witness it must have had a blast!

Today

In 2012, Kentucky’s “strengths” might become their weaknesses and vice-versa.

Many of the young players on the Wildcat offense will be a year older and they could have some help from the redshirts. Max Smith gained valuable experience at quarterback and the competition with Morgan Newton should just make whoever comes out on top a better player. It still remains to be seen, however, if Morgan Newton has fully recovered from a torn labrum he fell victim to (a contributing factor to the “wide receiver playing quarterback” situation).

At running back Kentucky has some talent (Josh Clemons had a respectable 4.3 yards per carry average) and as long as players can stay healthy, something that didn’t happen last year, the Wildcats should be improved.

Then again, with only two starters returning on the offensive line – second-team all-conference guard Larry Warford and center Matt Smith – it is questionable whether the improved running back corps will even have a chance to succeed with the blocking they will be given.

At wide receiver Demarco Robinson, La’Rod King, and E.J. Fields should all be viable options and are talented. Redshirt freshmen Bookie Cobbins and Daryl Collins each showed promise in the spring as well, but how much they can translate that success in practice over to an actual in-game situation still remains to be seen.

Overall the attitude on offense for Kentucky is probably “nowhere to go but up”, so while I would be surprised if they shocked the world, they should be able to put up better numbers in 2012 than 2011.

Defensively the Wildcats will need players to step up. Gone are three out of the top four tacklers on the team including two of the top three tackles in the SEC in Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy Jr.

Unless your name is Alabama or LSU, those aren’t the type of players you can just reload on.

2011 2.0

Overall 2012 looks better than 2011 did for the Wildcats, however they simply won’t have enough talent to compete in the SEC week-in and week-out.

They especially won’t have the talent to compete with the better teams in the SEC, a category I feel confident in saying that South Carolina is now in. The Gamecocks have tons of talent at the skill positions and tons of strength along the lines and that is a tough combination to beat. Kentucky is lacking skill and experience as a whole and it will show early and often in this game. It’s tough to be optimistic for anything better than a 5-7 or 6-6 season as a Kentucky fan and a 3-9 season definitely looks possible.

This game comes at a good time for the Gamecocks, as Connor Shaw should be able to tear apart the Kentucky secondary; gaining more confidence and developing a good rhythm with his wide receivers. The Gamecocks will need to be careful not to look ahead to the next game against Georgia, but the leadership on the 2012 Gamecocks will keep them focused and ready to take care of business.

Kentucky had some true talent in 2010 when they beat the Gamecocks in Lexington but this is a different, more mature South Carolina team and a Randall Cobb-less Wildcat squad. The Gamecocks should be sitting pretty with a 5-0 record and a top 10-ranking heading into what could potentially be the biggest game of the Spurrier era to date.

Then again, I could be totally wrong and this guy could be considered a prophet come January 2013. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9j9pCGNcabk)

NCAA 13 Simulation Projections:

Sim 1: Gamecocks 42-17
Sim 2: Gamecocks 31-6
Sim 3: Gamecocks 37-10

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