Rapid reaction: Kentucky runs over South Carolina to wrap up regular season
In a game between teams looking to finish out long seasons, Kentucky had more than South Carolina could handle to end the regular season on Saturday night at Kroger Field.
Both teams have had trying seasons off the field. They have had player opt outs, Kentucky suffered offensive line coach John Schlarman’s death, while South Carolina had a string of opt outs after the firing of coach Will Muschamp. Injuries were also an issue for both sides as they missed key players, and played with limited rosters.
Kentucky, though, came out running the ball, and got 3 first-half turnovers to build a 24-point lead at halftime. The Wildcats coasted to a 41-18 victory end the season with a 4-6 record, while South Carolina fell to 2-8.
The Gamecocks didn’t give up by a long shot. They faked a punt in the fourth quarter, and got a 22-yard completion, then QB Luke Doty found Dakereon Joyner for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 5:12 remaining.
One of the early bright spots for the Gamecocks came midway through the second quarter when RB Kevin Harris reached 1,000 yards for the season. He is the ninth player in school history to accomplish the feat, and first since 2013. The Gamecocks have never had a running back lead the SEC in rushing yards, yet Harris came into tonight’s game leading the league.
He kept it up in the second half highlighted by a 59-yard run that put him over 200 yards for the game. Harris is only the third running back in program history to post multiple 200-yard games, behind George Rogers and Marcus Lattimore.
Kentucky had its own rushing feats. Once he reached 56 rushing yards, AJ Rose moved past Marc Logan and into 10th place on the all-time Kentucky rushing yards list. Terry Wilson also surpassed 1,000 career rushing yards, and became the 40th UK player in history to hit that milestone.
The biggest play of the season for UK, though, came with 4:56 remaining when Chris Rodriguez scored on a 79-yard run. Rodriguez had 14 carries for 139 yards and 3 touchdowns in the win. Rose and Wilson also chipped in TDs.
It was an offensive outburst not seen in a while for UK. The Wildcats’ 276 total yards in first half against was more than the entire game total against 4 of its last 5 opponents for the Gamecocks. The Wildcats entered averaging an SEC-worst 115.6 passing yards per game and had 122. They averaged 8.8 yards on 1st-and-10 in the first half.
In the first half, Kentucky got an interception by Yusuf Corker, and a Jordan Wright fumble recovery, which Chris Rodriguez capitalized as the Wildcats built a two-score lead early on. It helped the Wildcats that the Gamecocks’ first touchdown was called back on a penalty, and then they missed a field goal attempt.
UK had one of its better halves of the season to start the game. At halftime, UK had 122 passing yards, which is more than the Wildcats have had in 6 whole games this year. Doty looked like a freshman in the first half, with 6-for-13 passing for 56 yards and 5 carries for minus-4. He also lost a fumble and been intercepted.
Both teams were in a tough situation with shrinking numbers because of injuries, opt outs and COVID-19 protocols. Kentucky was down 17 players, and South Carolina only had 16 available players on the defensive side of the ball tonight, according to the SEC Network. That left the Gamecocks with 46 available players.