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Previewing Kentucky at South Carolina: Q & A with A Sea of Blue's Truzenzuzek

My answers to Tru's questions are forthcoming at A Sea of Blue.

1. Let's the get elephant-in-the-room questions out of the way. UK is currently mired in a long losing streak to USC. Does this surprise you? Why do you think that USC had enjoyed so much success against the 'Cats? What would a win in this game mean to UK fans?

The losing streak does surprise me.  It isn't that South Carolina is not a good football team program, or that UK is better, it is more that the Gamecocks have not separated themselves from the middle of the SEC like Georgia, or Alabama, or LSU.  In fact it is amazing that we have beaten every team in the SEC with the exception of Florida, Alabama and Tennessee since we last beat the Gamecocks in 1999.  So unlike the Florida losing streak, which has lately been rooted in a far superior team, the losing streaks to Tennessee and South Carolina are a little harder to explain.

I really don't know why USC has been so successful against the 'Cats.  Obviously, South Carolina always fields a solid team, so it isn't like UK should be favored over the Gamecocks very often.  But you would almost expect that UK would have gotten lucky by now, or the Gamecocks would have thrown in a clunker.  But for some reason that hasn't happened, and the streak continues.

As far as UK fans are concerned, I think the USC streak is less annoying than those by Florida and Tennessee, but it definitely is something that we would like to see end.  The Florida and Tennessee streaks are downright embarrassing, and the USC streak is something I think most fans expect to end almost anytime.  That may be false hope, but I think that's how most fans see it.

2. Derrick Locke, Alphonso Smith, and Randall Cobb were able to run the ball with relative success against 'Bama's stout front line. Do you expect UK to do the same against USC? What kinds of looks should USC expect from the Kentucky offense?

I do expect UK to run the ball well against USC.  Kentucky has a veteran offensive line that has proven they can run block very well, and I think South Carolina knows it can't really afford to stack the box with Cobb and Matthews on the outside, so I think the 'Cats will have success.  UK ran it well against the Gators and against the Tide, and Carolina is behind both of them in league defense against the run.  That isn't to say that UK will have their way with the Gamecocks, but we should be able to move the ball in spite of how tough the USC defense is.

I think South Carolina can expect a lot of the power running game early to help open up the play action pass.  It depends largely on what the Gamecocks do defensively, though.  If USC plays soft on the underneath routes like Alabama did, I fully expect Hartline to start looking for Locke and Connor on the short routes rather than trying to force it downfield like he did against the Tide.  I think UK will try to manage the game better against the Gamecocks than they did against the Tide.  UK is a possesion team that succeeds best when they have the ball a long time.

I would not be surprised to see Phillips use the Wildcat package more often in this game if the Gamecocks are successful in slowing down Locke through the line.

3. Mike Hartline is struggling. How much confidence do you have in his ability to perform well in this game?

Well, Hartline has not convinced me he is an SEC quarterback.  Still, he is capable of making good decisions and throwing the ball well when given time.  The problem is, he locks on receivers too much, and looks too long for his primaries.  He is also not a particularly good downfield passer.  But Hartline at his best is a capable game-management quarterback, and if UK's running game is going along well, it will make the passing game much easier for him.

I have more confidence in Hartline than the other quarterbacks that UK has.  That isn't saying a lot, though -- Fidler is a 3-year backup and the other QB's are true freshmen.  I would have more confidence in Cobb, but Cobb has physical limitations at QB that hurt him.  Not only that, he is our best wide receiver, and he can't pass it to himself.

4. UK projects to be without both starting corners, including All-American candidate Trevard Lindley. Will the backups prove adequate replacements, or does USC stand to gash Kentucky through the air?

Randall Burden is a totally adequate fill-in, but Martavious Neloms is a true freshman and was burned on an out route last week vs. 'Bama.  Brooks has a lot of confidence in Neloms, but I really don't at this point -- he looks green, and he will get picked on.  I don't know if USC's passing game is strong enough to gash UK's secondary a lot -- Lindley and Warford are two big pieces, but the safeties are really good.  My concern is how well we can handle the USC backs and tight end if we go to zone, which seems pretty likely.  'Bama killed us by running Peek in between the zones.

5. Prediction. Who wins and how does it go down?

I'll make the partisan pick and say UK finally gets the gamecocks, 24-21.  Neither team is particularly strong offensively, and even though Kentucky shows up poorly defensively right now, those stats were damaged by taking on the two best offensive teams in the SEC (and maybe in America) back-to-back.  USC is strong, but they are not Alabama or Florida strong, so I expect a competitive, toughly contested game by both teams and a close final score.

My thanks to Tru for taking part in this interview swap.