The Gamecocks hung on to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats by a score of 35-28, but there remain serious concerns regarding our defense and our ability to close games. Carolina had a 24-7 lead at the half and led 27-7 at the end of the third quarter, but poor defense and a special teams turnover allowed Kentucky to make a good game of it in the fourth quarter.
The good news is that the Carolina offense played extremely well. We scored on seven of eight possessions, the only punt coming on Dylan Thompson's one drive. Connor Shaw was magnificent in this game, going 17-20 for over 260 yards and 50 rushing yards. Damiere Byrd was Shaw's favorite target; Byrd continues to play well in the absence of Shaq Roland. When Kentucky came within a score in the fourth quarter after Bruce Ellington's lost fumble on a kickoff return, Shaw put the team on his back and led a long scoring drive to put the game out of reach. Mike Davis also looked good yet again, rushing for over 100 yards.
That said, defense and special teams continue to struggle. The defense was without Jadeveon Clowney, but it played fairly well early on while Carolina built up its lead. However, as Kentucky made adjustments and began moving the ball better, Carolina wasn't able to keep up. The Wildcats were able to move the ball extremely well using the wildcat, and they were also able to pass the ball more effectively as the game went on. The linebackers and safeties continued to struggle, and while the defensive tackles had some good moments, the line struggled to create the kind of pressure we're accustomed to when Clowney plays. Dumb penalties also hurt us, particularly an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kadetrix Marcus. On special teams, we had another ugly turnover and got little production in the return game. The bright spot for special teams was the stellar kicking of Elliott Fry, who was two-for-two on field goals, both over 40 yards.
Given how the offense is playing, we should be able to stay in any game we play. However, unless our defense and special teams improve, which is beginning to seem unlikely, eventually we're going to play a team that's going to be able to finish us off.