I was expecting this game to be a bit closer than expected early, but I wasn't expecting Kentucky to have anywhere near the kind of early success they in fact had. In fact, when you consider that the guy who was considered Kentucky's only hope, starting QB Maxwell Smith, went out of the game on UK's opening drive, it's even more shocking that it was 17-7 'Cats at the half. But that's exactly what happened. The problems were myriad. USC's offensive line was getting manhandled and making various mistakes. We were being too cute on offense, only handing off to Lattimore five times in the first half. Kentucky's Jalen Whitlow played much better than could have been expected in relief of Smith. Kentucky got some favorable bounces and calls from the zebras. It all added up to a very impressive first half from Kentucky.
In the second half, though, South Carolina did something that often distinguishes good teams: After coming out sluggish and taking the underdog's best shot, we refocused at halftime, quickly took the lead early in the second half, and never looked back. It was an impressive second-half performance that showed that while this team is liable to play down to an opponent, it's also mature enough to pick itself up off the mat and talented enough to exert its will on less talented opponents when it wants to.
A few additional thoughts about the game:
--Of the things we could control, the two things I was most unhappy with in the first half were the offensive playcalling and the play of the offensive line. The playcalling was a bit too clever. I'm all for opening up the playbook at appropriate times, but it seemed like we didn't think Kentucky was worth the effort it takes to establish the run before trying some less conventional things. Lattimore only got five carries in the first half, and that just doesn't seem like enough. It was particularly strange to see us again not go to him on the goalline, and just like last week, we saw a drive end at the one-yard line due to this ill-conceived strategy. It was particularly strange considering that Kentucky has been atrocious against the run this season. Of course, the fact that the offensive line couldn't get a push to save its life may have had something to do with the lack of power running plays. Our line seems to have a major problem with playing soft against lower-tier opponents. There were also some bad snaps and guys getting eaten alive by stunts and blitzes.
--The defense might get a bit of flack for giving up 17 first-half points, but they really didn't play that bad. Some of the points came in part due to a questionable facemasking penalty and the punt block. Kentucky ran the ball a bit better than I expected, but other than that, our defense was OK. There were some of the usual "wow!" plays from Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, and we got a couple of coverage sacks in there, too. Not the best performance of the year for this group, but at the end of the day, we still held a team to under 250 yards. Not bad.
--The best performance by an offensive player was definitely by Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore didn't have many opportunities to get going early in the game, but things opened up for him in the second half, and he ended up with another excellent performance. He continues to look closer and closer to last year's form. Some of the cuts he made were things of beauty and the kind of things that only someone who feels really good on his knees could do, and he was effective bouncing off tackles. It's going to be very interesting to see how he plays next weekend. It certainly feels like he's getting lathered up just in time to break UGA's heart one last time.
--I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to see why we keep giving D.L. Moore so many snaps. I love the guy and appreciate the effort he's put into the program, but this has the feel of a guy who gets to play solely because he's experienced and not because he's the most capable guy available. I get that Moore is a good blocker, but is it really that much of a plus to have a good blocking WR on the field when he can't catch the ball? I'd like to see Damiere Byrd getting more of Moore's snaps. In addition to the drops, we sure had a lot of passing plays today where Shaw had to scramble or take a sack because the receivers couldn't get open. Getting speedy guys like Byrd on the field more would help with that.
That's a wrap on this one. Who are we playing again next week?