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Five Keys to Victory: Kentucky

The No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks will travel to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN2. This article takes a look at five things the Gamecocks must do well to come away victorious.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw

1. Handle the blitz – Kentucky defensive coordinator and former South Carolina assistant coach Rick Minter is sure to dial up a variety of blitzes in this contest in an effort to force Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw into mistakes. The South Carolina offensive line and backs must do a good job of protecting Shaw and giving him the time he needs in the pocket. Shaw must make good decisions and get rid of the ball quickly to make the Wildcats pay for taking risks.

2. Get Lattimore lathered up – Heading into this game, Kentucky’s rushing defense ranks 13th in the SEC as they are surrendering close to 200 yards per game on the ground. This should be just what the doctor ordered for Marcus Lattimore, as he is coming off his best game of the season last week against Missouri. If the Wildcats can’t slow Lattimore down early in this contest, their defense could be in for a long night in front of the hometown fans.

3. Punish their offense – Kentucky ranks near the bottom of the conference in every major offensive category, with the exception of passing, and the Gamecocks must take advantage of this. Whether it’s causing turnovers or just giving Shaw and the South Carolina offense good starting field position, Lorenzo Ward’s defense needs to control this game from the outset and set the tone. Quarterback Maxwell Smith is expected to return after missing the Florida game and is much more capable than his replacements, but he’s not likely to be 100 percent healthy. Generating consistent pressure up front will be a goal for the Gamecocks.

4. Continue special teams excellence – South Carolina is coming off arguably their most complete special teams performance in years, and that needs to continue on the road. Junior Ace Sanders has emerged as one of the best punt returners in the SEC and Bruce Ellington almost returned his only return of the season for a touchdown. The Wildcats have forced four touchbacks all season, so Ellington should get his hands on the ball a time or two in this contest.

5. Protect the football – Obviously avoiding turnovers is important in any game, but it’s particularly vital when facing a struggling offense like Kentucky’s. The last thing Carolina can afford to do is end drives with turnovers and give the Wildcats a short field to work with. Shaw needs to make good decisions, manage the game and not force the issue, all of which are strengths of his.

Final analysis – The taste of 2010’s heartbreaking loss in Lexington has to still be in the Gamecock players’ mouths, and there should be no problem for the coaches to get the players fired up for this game. Kentucky’s offense has struggled all season and the Carolina defense has performed at a high level this season. I don’t expect an offensive explosion with this game being on the road, but I do anticipate the Gamecocks leaving the Bluegrass State with a comfortable victory.

Prediction – South Carolina 31 Kentucky 13

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