FIVE REASONS: South Carolina at Kentucky

Open Thread here. You know the drill.

Fivereasonswin2008_medium

1. The South Carolina defense. With the possible exception of Alabama, Kentucky has not seen a defense this tough all season. Ellis Johnson has skillfully used a talented group of players to hold opponents to 244.7 ypg, second in the conference. Opposing quarterbacks are efficient, but don't throw for a lot of yards; Kentucky does not have a good enough rushing attack to wear down the Gamecocks' Achilles' Heel.

2. Cock 'n' Firing. For now, at least, it seems that the Gamecocks' offense is doing just fine, thank you. Against Ole Miss, South Carolina piled up 405 yards. The rushing game is still a shortcoming, but if Chris Smelley's last performance is any indication of what he can do, that won't hurt too much. We've seen all this before, but if this is more than just another false start, the Gamecocks could be hard to stop.

3. The streaks. The Gamecocks have won eight straight against Kentucky; Steve Spurrier has won 15. Numbers like that transcend coaching staffs and personnel changes and speak to something -- whether it's something more or less. In this case, it just appears that the Gamecocks and Spurrier have been tough opponents for the Wildcats to master.

4. Tested. South Carolina has played three conference games to Kentucky's one, four games against BCS teams to Kentucky's two and five games against FBS teams to Kentucky's three. The Gamecocks have a bit more experience against worthy opponents.

5. Kenny McKinley. He came back last week; here's hoping that this week will be his full-fledged return to productivity. If McKinley can help Smelley keep the passing game chugging along, Kentucky could be forced to drop more men into coverage and finally loosen up the defense enough to get at least a few yards on the ground.

 

Fivereasons2008_medium

1. The Kentucky defense. Anyone who's a fan of offense will probably want to skip this game; both of these defenses are good, unless Kentucky's schedule is somehow even less impressive than it looks. Sure, they've played some cupcakes, but 259.4 ypg? Allowing 7.8 ppg? As long as someone's taking the field to play you, those are impressive numbers.

2. The trenches. Kentucky has allowed the fewest sacks per game in the conference and ranks No. 2 in defensive sacks. Like the Gamecocks, the Wildcats have struggled to run the ball (though not as mightily); unlike South Carolina, pass protection has not been a problem.

3. Field position. When it's a defensive game, where you start your drives matters a great deal. Derrick Locke will help in that regard; he's first in the country with 38.0 yards per kickoff return. Dicky Lyons isn't shabby on punt returns, going for 11.9 yards per. Tim Masthay is averaging 44.8 yards per punt.

4. Turnovers. Kentucky has a far better average turnover margin (1.0) than the Gamecocks (-0.8). A big interception or fumble could literally decide this game.

5. Streaks end. Ask Vanderbilt. They've been breaking a lot of them the last few years. The Gamecocks can't beat the Wildcats forever, and this year is as good as any for the end to come.

PREDICTION: Tough game to call. Kentucky might have a bit of a letdown after playing Alabama close, and South Carolina is riding the momentum after edging Ole Miss. Either way, I'd be shocked if this game is decided by more than a touchdown. The Gamecocks are a little bit better, again. South Carolina 14, Kentucky 10

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