Kentucky football: 5 reasons the Wildcats will beat South Carolina
For Kentucky, the goalposts seem to be moving. Beating Missouri would prove that the Wildcats were a legitimate top-tier SEC team. They did, but they stumbled horribly in an ugly win over Chattanooga, and now Kentucky seeks validation with a road win at South Carolina on Saturday. Even during Mark Stoops’ 5-year bowl streak in Lexington, UK averages 1.4 conference road wins per season. With Vandy on the schedule, the Wildcats will look to overachieve on that front in 2021. Here are 5 reasons they’ll win in Columbia:
1. Recent history
Since losing to Carolina with his first Kentucky team, Stoops is 6-1 against the Gamecocks, including a pair of wins in Columbia. Kentucky had won 5 in a row in the series before suffering an offensive meltdown without a healthy quarterback in 2019. Kentucky returned the script to normal last season with a 41-18 win in Lexington. Make no mistake — for a program with a humble history, Kentucky has done well against Carolina lately.
2. Chris Rodriguez
South Carolina has a ho-hum run defense, currently 8th in the SEC and allowing just more than 3.6 yards per carry. Not bad, but not brilliant, either. Meanwhile, Rodriguez is fresh off a down week, likely motivated and still the SEC’s leading rusher at 378 yards (and 6.4 yards per carry). The guess here is that after a week of being reminded of a pretty brutal game against Chattanooga, Kentucky’s offensive line will come ready to road-grade in Columbia. Rodriguez is the likely beneficiary, likely protecting his rushing lead with a 100-plus-yard effort.
3. A shaky USC OL
South Carolina is last in the SEC in offensive yardage, and much of the blame has to lie with the offensive line. It has allowed 8 sacks, 2nd most in the conference behind only Tennessee. Carolina is 11th in rushing yardage, and their 3.6 yards per carry average is 12th in the SEC. Luke Doty is only just getting healthy, and oh yes, former Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford is now current Kentucky offensive line coach Eric Wolford. Kentucky figures to go after the Carolina offensive line early and often.
4. The return of Jordan Wright
Kentucky was without linebacker Jordan Wright last week against Chattanooga due to a minor injury. Wright led UK’s returnees in sacks and was off to a solid start in 2021, with 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 2 passes broken up. Having Wright and J.J. Weaver both ready to go should help Kentucky improve its defensive pressure. The Wildcats have forced just 2 turnovers in the season’s first 3 games, and they will look to push that stat higher in Columbia.
5. Wan’Dale Robinson
So far, the biggest difference-maker in the current Kentucky offense and those of past seasons has been Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson. Opening the season with 3 consecutive 100-yard receiving games made Robinson the first Wildcat ever to do so. His ability to get loose on end-arounds and jet sweeps, his elusiveness in the open field and his ability to go up and get 50/50 balls all make Robinson a fearsome opponent, likely one whom Carolina hasn’t seen the likes of yet. Robinson is 6th in the SEC in receptions and 2nd in receiving yards, just a pair of yards behind Ole Miss’s Dontario Drummond for the lead. Last week, Georgia hit 3 20-yard pass plays on Carolina, 2 going for touchdowns. Those are balls that will likely go to either Robinson or senior Josh Ali this week, if UK quarterback Will Levis has his way. Look for Wan’Dale to continue his 100-yard streak.