1. Norwood's Night. If you were looking for the leader of the defense after the injury to Jasper Brinkley, we have found him, my friend. And his name is Eric Norwood. Two fumble recoveries for TDs -- tying an NCAA Division I-A record. A tackle for loss and two broken up passes. Overall, a pretty good night for Norwood.
The team's high scorer Thursday night. Literally.
Norwood anchored a defense that performed admirably. They limited Kentucky to 384 yards of offense, which is not bad for a team with the number of playmakers the Wildcats have.
2. Turnovers. If you're looking for the stat that decided the night, it came in the turnover category. Andre Woodson threw his second interception in as many games -- which is a big deal when the first one snapped a record-long stretch without a pick -- and the Wildcats coughed up five fumbles, three of which were picked up by South Carolina. One of those recovered by Kentucky stopped what would have been an almost certain touchdown run on 3rd-and-goal.
Points off turnovers? Only when Norwood cashed them in immediately. Granted, this was two of the fumbles. But when the other quarterback throws an INT that you return to your own 38, and the ensuing three-and-out ends with the ball on your own 33, that's failing to capitalize. Nice to see more turnovers. Now, use them.
3. Winning the fourth quarter. Coming into Thursday night's game, the Wildcats had outscored their opposition 66-22 in the final quarter, capping off comebacks against Louisville and Arkansas along the way. Tonight, the Gamecocks won the four quarter, 14-10.
Part of this was better execution in the running game and on pass protection after the offensive line collapsed in the third quarter. None of the Wildcats' five sacks came in the fourth quarter. And a running effort that got stymied in the third frame rebounded near the end of the game to help put Kentucky away.
4. Smelley continues to perform. Again, not lights-out, but pretty well. His completion percentage was up (17-of-30), he threw for 256 yards and a pair of scores, and he spread his completions among eight different receivers. He got sacked five times and made a few poor decisions, but didn't have a turnover.
And when Spurrier orchestrated the 10-play, 89-yard drive to take a 17-10 lead before the half, it was Smelley who made it work, going 4-of-5 for 49 yards. He's now gotten through the most difficult part of his first four-game stretch, with matchups at North Carolina and against Vanderbilt to follow.
Starting to click.
5. Races and rankings. First of all, the Gamecocks now have a chance to move into the Top 10 for the first time in six years. If nothing else, Kentucky tumbling out of the No. 8 spot should advance South Carolina into the Top 10 in the AP poll.
Sports information directors' Coaches' poll? We'll see.
As far as the SEC East, South Carolina remains in control of its own destiny. Florida is still the most important game, since any tie between the
Cubs Cocks (freaking baseball playoffs) and someone else on top of the division is likely to include the Gators. After that, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas rank pretty much in that order, particularly if Florida falls to LSU this weekend. Another loss by Georgia would also be nice.
But the win sets the Gamecocks up nicely for the stretch run, if they can handle it.
OVERALL GRADE: B. There were glimmers of a great team during the drive at the end of the half, and the defense handled a pretty strong offense. But this team still lacks the consistency needed to win the East, barring a Florida collapse.