Would a win at LSU mean more than beating Gamecocks for Kentucky?
After rushing for a season-best 131 yards and three touchdowns, sophomore Jojo Kemp asked “why not Kentucky?” during his postgame interview with SEC Network’s Heather Mitts. The Wildcats (5-1) had just defeated South Carolina 45-38, after trailing 38-24 with 11:45 remaining. The victory marked the first signature win for Mark Stoops in his second season as head coach.
Stoops inherited a struggling Kentucky program looking to change its identity as proverbial cellar-dweller and afterthought to one of the nation’s best basketball programs. For the first time in several years, fans are still paying attention to the Wildcats football program as the college basketball season draws closer.
The win against South Carolina was a loud statement for the rising program. The Gamecocks entered the season as a favorite to win the SEC East, while Kentucky received far less optimism. The game marked a change in the perception of both teams, with Kentucky seeming all the more like a contender in a weak SEC East division and South Carolina as a disappointment.
But a win in Wildcats’ upcoming matchup at LSU (5-2) would mean even more for the program. Despite their struggles, the Tigers are a 9.5 favorite entering Saturday’s game. LSU also has the advantage of playing at Death Valley, one of the most hostile road environments in college football.
“We’ll do what we do on the road,” Stoops said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Same communication that we used in the swamp (at Florida), you know. So of course, you know, each of these challenges going on the road in the SEC, it’s going to be loud and all that, so we gotta deal with it. We’ll be OK.”
A win at LSU would be monumental for the rising program. Kentucky’s last win over LSU came in 2007, as the Wildcats provided the eventual BCS champions with one of their only two regular season losses. The two teams last met in 2011, with LSU winning 35-7 at home.
The perception of Tigers this season may be tainted with two losses– both to ranked SEC West opponents– but LSU is still one of college football’s top-tier programs. Though the Wildcats have a winning record, the South Carolina victory stands alone as the only convincing win to their legitimacy.
LSU is, by far, a tougher test than any matchup Kentucky has faced this season. If Kentucky can pull off an upset, it will likely receive a ranking in next week’s AP Poll and capture its biggest signature win of the Mark Stoops era.