South Carolina football: What's gone wrong during 4-game Kentucky losing streak and, more important, can Gamecocks fix it?
South Carolina probably won’t need a motivating one-liner from an opposing coach this week to get fired up.
The Gamecocks are well aware of their 4-game losing streak against Kentucky, and now they’re facing the tall order of knocking off an undefeated and ranked team on the road. The Gamecocks are ranked in the bottom third of the SEC in rushing defense, and on Saturday will face the league’s best rushing attack, led by a Heisman hopeful, Benny Snell.
The Wildcats and Georgia are the only SEC teams to already top 1,000 rushing yards, and UK is tied for the SEC lead (Mississippi State) with 13 rushing touchdowns. Snell has accounted for 540 of the yards and 7 of the TDs. He leads the SEC in both categories.
That should be all they need to get motivated, but coach Will Muschamp admitted it’s something the team has discussed, and something that needs to improve.
“It’s a challenge for our football team, that’s what I told them. So what, now what,” Muschamp said on a Sunday media teleconference, according to audio posted by SportsTalkSC. “At the end of the day, do we need somebody to motivate you, or can you be a self-starter? … Continue to work through our football team and figure the ways they get motivated.”
Kentucky has won the past 4. South Carolina only has two longer active SEC losing streaks: Auburn (8) and LSU (6).
The same cast of characters for Kentucky that has built the streak in this series, Snell and Josh Allen, for example, are its key playmakers again this season. Allen is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week after a big game against Mississippi State. Allen had 6 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a sack in UK’s 28-7 win. Snell is the brash face of the program and an emerging dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
Snell last season against South Carolina had 32 carries for 102 yards and 2 TDs. Two years ago, he had 16 carries for 73 yards and a TD. Allen had 3 tackles against South Carolina last year, and 7 in 2016.
Muschamp described Snell as a “violent back.” He praised new addition Terry Wilson and noted how many veterans the Wildcats have.
So, how can South Carolina end its 4-game series slide?
It must correct a few things: convert at a higher clip on third down, produce more rushing yards while limiting the UK rushing attack.
In the 3 of the past 4 games, UK has outrushed South Carolina, including last season at 184-54. In fact, in the past two years, the Gamecocks haven’t cracked 100 yards.
On third down, UK has converted at a higher rate in 3 of the 4 games, and South Carolina’s conversion rate has been below 30 percent in each of the past 3 games.
Here is a rundown of how the last three games have unfolded, including key turning points:
2017: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13
While Kentucky is the surprising team in the SEC today, a year ago, the Wildcats had a similar undefeated start that included a 23-13 win at South Carolina as they established themselves as a contender candidate in the SEC East.
This game might be most remembered for star wide receiver Deebo Samuel suffering a broken leg despite turning in five catches for 122 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season in the third game, a 68-yard scoring play that sparked the celebration below.
Kentucky converted 8 of its first 10 third-downs and finished 9-for-16. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, were 3-for-12. Another problem was South Carolina rushed for just 54 yards.
2016: Kentucky 17, South Carolina 10
Again, South Carolina struggled to run the ball with just 91 yards rushing. They also couldn’t convert very well on third down at just 3-for-14. That’s a main reason why South Carolina managed just a field goal after halftime. While Kentucky was 4-for-13, the Wildcats at least churned out 216 rushing yards.
2015: Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22
Kentucky snapped a 22-game SEC road losing streak, which covered six years, at South Carolina. The Wildcats didn’t punt in the first half, and then forced nothing but field goals by South Carolina until midway through the fourth quarter. Kentucky gained 307 yards in the first half, and led 24-7 at halftime. Connor Mitch, who was injured, and Perry Orth quarterbacked for the Gamecocks and went 17-for-27 for 222 yards, a TD and an interception.
2014: Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38
Kentucky improved to 2-20 against Steve Spurrier and earned just its second win over the Gamecocks in 15 games. The Wildcats did it with 21 points in the fourth quarter, and three turnovers overall by the Gamecocks. The loss was especially tough because the Gamecocks had 500 total yards, and led 14-0 after scoring drives of 14 and 11 plays.