Rapid Reaction: Kentucky stumbles early, but finishes strong in win over Gamecocks
On the first play of Saturday’s Kentucky-South Carolina game, the Kentucky defense was absolutely toasted. South Carolina QB Jake Bentley found WR Deebo Samuel at midfield, and Samuel raced 68 yards ahead of Wildcat DB Derrick Baity for a touchdown. Williams-Brice Stadium immediately went into a frenzy.
But for most of the rest of the game, it was the Gamecocks who looked bad.
After giving up an immediate six points, Kentucky’s defense tightened, and an efficient offense balanced that defense — which made a huge 4th-down stand to begin the fourth quarter as Kentucky moved to 3-0 by virtue of beating South Carolina for a fourth consecutive season.
Carolina rallied to pull within 20-13 on a touchdown pass from Bentley to OrTre Smith with 6:26 to play, but they would pull not closer. Stephen Johnson’s 54-yard scramble on 3rd down sealed the victory for the Wildcats, who won 23-13.
The last time Kentucky beat an SEC team not named Vanderbilt in four consecutive seasons? That would be Florida, from 1948-1951. Kentucky’s coach then was an up-and-comer named Paul “Bear” Bryant. No one is mistaking Stoops for Bryant, but if his Kentucky defense continues to make timely stops, they could well be a factor in an increasingly muddled SEC East.
The loss dropped the Gamecocks to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the East.
Kentucky’s offense ranged from dull to outright boring, but its efficiency consisted of keeping the ball away from Carolina’s playmakers. Kentucky won the time of possession battle almost 37 minutes to 23. Sophomore back Benny Snell scored a pair of touchdowns, finishing with 32 carries for 102 yards rushing. After throwing an interception on his second attempt, Johnson finished 16 for 25 for 169 yards passing.
Samuel led Carolina with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, although he left the game for the locker room in the end of the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. Bentley at one point completed 13 consecutive passes, finishing the game 24 for 36 for 304 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Defensively, Kentucky bent but did not break. Carolina missed a pair of field goals and twice failed to convert fourth downs. Perhaps more telling, the Gamecocks converted just 3-of-12 third down opportunities, while Kentucky was an efficient 9-for-16.
Kentucky will host 1-1 Florida next week, in an effort to continue its fight to distinguish themselves in a wide-open SEC East.
Carolina will host CUSA opponent Louisiana Tech.