Kentucky football: 5 bold predictions for home game against South Carolina
For a 4-1 Kentucky team, Saturday night’s home matchup with South Carolina is both an opportunity to make a statement and the chance to avoid a trap.
In each of the past 3 seasons, Kentucky has followed its first loss of the season with its second loss in the next game. In the 2 years before that, UK didn’t lose again in the game following its first loss but dozed through 24-20 and 14-7 wins over Eastern Michigan and Vanderbilt.
But the 13th-ranked Wildcats have done well recently against South Carolina (3-2), winning 7 of the past 8 in the series and not having lost to the Gamecocks in Lexington since 2012, Joker Phillips’ final season as UK’s head coach.
Wednesday night brought the breaking news that Wildcats quarterback Will Levis is a game-time decision because of injury. Considering that the point spread on the game plummeted like a rock, somebody in a big-money position believes that Kaiya Sheron will be taking the snaps for UK on Saturday.
With that crazy wildcard in the mix, here’s 5 bold predictions for what we might see on Saturday night:
1. Levis will play
It would be great to claim that this was based on anything but a gut instinct, but it isn’t. Levis was noticeably hobbling late in the 1st half against Ole Miss last Saturday, but the news of him being questionable for this Saturday was pretty shocking.
The bottom line is that whatever limitations might be imposed on him, Kentucky with a 70-percent version of Will Levis is probably 2 scores better than Kentucky without him. Levis didn’t return to Lexington for this season to play in the Music City Bowl. If he’s not out there Saturday, the long-term news may be even worse for UK than playing an injured quarterback now.
2. Chris Rodriguez will rush for 150 yards
Kentucky’s ground game has been sick (not in a good way), and the return of Rodriguez is a big step toward getting it well. Last week, C-Rod had 73 yards on 19 carries. Another week into his SEC return, he’ll be ready to take advantage of the 13th-best rush defense in the conference.
The Gamecocks gave up 200-plus rushing yards to Arkansas, Georgia and Georgia State, and even allowed 145 yards on the ground to FCS foe South Carolina State. Rodriguez should have a big night.
3. South Carolina will pass for 250 yards
Not all the good news will belong to Kentucky. The Gamecocks will take advantage of a banged-up Wildcats defense. Kentucky will be either without or playing with a limited version of Vito Tisdale, Jalen Geiger, Tyrell Ajian, JJ Weaver and Jacquez Jones, likely among others.
With Mississippi State and Tennessee up next on the schedule, head coach Mark Stoops won’t love it, but the Wildcats pass defenders will get some growing experience on Saturday night. Unfortunately, they’ll give up some yardage, too.
4. The Gamecocks win the turnover battle
South Carolina has been awful in the turnover department this season, committing the most in the SEC with 13. But the Wildcats have only forced 5 turnovers, which is tied for 11th in the SEC, and given the Gamecocks’ propensity for blitzing, it seems likely that they will force a UK error or 2, particularly with a hobbled or untested quarterback behind center. South Carolina likely wins the turnover battle.
5. Without Levis or with a limited Levis, Kentucky finds a way
Potentially losing the best player on your offense before a more-or-less must-win game feels pretty dire. But Stoops and Co. have gone into the bag of tricks before. Whether it was bringing along Stephen Johnson in 2016, tapping Lynn Bowden’s all-Wildcat offense in 2019 or a million other on-the-fly adjustments, Stoops has been a back-to-the-wall kind of coach.
Which is good because Kentucky is facing a fairly hungry and desperate South Carolina team, and the Wildcats are without a secure offensive identity and without a healthy defense. If Levis is ruled out, South Carolina will become a trendy pick.
But the guess here is that UK finds a way. Maybe Sheron is better than everyone thinks. Maybe Keaten Wade can play from the Wildcat. Whatever it is, Kentucky wins, with running and defense, if necessary.
Kentucky 24, South Carolina 21.