All in all, the Gamecocks didn’t fare too badly, despite the score lines and the carping that’s been heard throughout the media over the last month. While Georgia moved the ball very well against them (which if you watched the LSU game, you’ll realize that Georgia is going to do that to everyone this year, just as they did last year bar their game in Columbia), otherwise the Gamecock defense has done a good job of keeping the Gamecocks in ballgames, especially last weekend in Orlando when it took the offense an entire half to get in gear.
Basically, the defense hasn’t played very well when you measure it against raw statistics, but once you adjust for the strength of the opponents that we’ve faced, you have to admit that they haven’t been all bad.
Enter the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gamecock defense has a chance to put on its first dominant performance of the season against an SEC cellar-dweller that only scored one touchdown against Florida thanks to a fake field goal, and could also only muster one scoring drive against the Louisville Cardinals (to be fair to Kentucky, those are two excellent defenses). Now the Wildcats face their first true road game of the season, and the defense should be licking its chops at the opportunity.
The Wildcats have not been able to throw the ball successfully against either Louisville or the Gators, averaging 5.8 and 4.8 yards/attempt respectively in those two games. That has unsurprisingly led to Kentucky being very weak in advanced statistics on passing downs (2nd down with 8 or more yards to go; 3rd or 4th down with 5 or more yards to go), where they rank 71st in the nation despite half their games coming against two very weak defenses – Western Kentucky and Miami (Ohio). While the Gamecocks themselves rank very low in passing downs defense (78th nationally), remember these numbers are not adjusted for strength of schedule (in fact, the SOS adjustments are so wacky at this point in the season that it’s hard to do too much with the adjusted numbers).
If you can’t throw the ball very well, and if you struggle on passing downs, you’re not going to be excited to see the South Carolina defense, which continues to have a very strong defensive line and a secondary that despite a few big blowups has been consistently above-average throughout the opening month of the season.
For Kentucky to have a chance, they’ll have to get the run game going in standard downs so that the Gamecocks have to respect both the run and the pass on 2nd and 3rd down. If Kentucky ends up in a lot of 2nd and 3rd and long situations, it will likely be a long night for the Wildcats.