South Carolina wasted opportunities on Saturday in Lexington, and while it took some time, the Wildcats ultimately capitalized with a demoralizing 45-38 win over the Gamecocks that effectively sealed their fate in the SEC East as non-contenders.
To the box score:
|Advanced Box Score|
|Yds. per Play||7.00||6.09||Kentucky|
|SD - Success||62.00%||59.72%||Kentucky||47.50%|
|PD - Success||21.43%||46.15%||Carolina||30.60%|
|Rushing||34 plays||48 plays|
|Rush Success Rate||61.8%||64.6%||Carolina||43.40%|
|Passing||30 plays||37 plays|
|Pass Success Rate||43.3%||48.6%||Carolina||40.80%|
|1st Down Success||54.84%||60.98%||Carolina|
|1st Down Yds/Play||8.48||6.05||Kentucky|
|2nd Down Success||52.38%||50.00%||Kentucky|
|2nd Down Yds/Play||5.71||6.07||Carolina|
|3rd Down Success||50.00%||60.00%||Carolina|
|3rd Down Yds/Play||5.42||6.60||Carolina|
|4th Down Success||N/A||100.00%||Kentucky|
|4th Down Yds/Play||N/A||1.00||Kentucky|
|1Q Success Rate||60.0%||64.3%||Carolina|
|2Q Success Rate||60.9%||40.9%||Kentucky|
|3Q Success Rate||27.8%||77.8%||Carolina|
|4Q Success Rate||66.7%||47.1%||Kentucky|
|Starting Field Position||Own 32||Own 24||Kentucky||Own 29.8|
|*Standard downs - all 1st downs, 2nd and less than 8, 3rd/4th and less than 5|
|*Passing downs - all other downs|
|*Success is 50% of yards on 1st, 70% of yards on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd or 4th|
|*Scoring trips - drives with one first down inside the opposing team's 40-yard line|
1. I don't know how you look at this and blame the offense
The 3.17 points per drive isn't incredible, but on a play-by-play basis, the Gamecocks simply trucked the Wildcats on this side of the ball. They posted a success rate of almost 58%, and didn't get thrown off when they got behind schedule - they continued to hit successful plays at an over 46% clip even when they were forced into passing downs. That's outstanding.
The 6.1 yards per play isn't incredible, but they didn't fail in any area of the game where it caused pain - 5.6 on standard downs and 8.9 on passing downs is good enough. The passing game probably needed to do more with just 5.9 yards an attempt, and that looks all the worse against the healthy 6.3 yards a carry the running game put up, but the success rate in the passing game gave the Gamecocks a chance.
Also, it should be noted that Carolina ran the ball on over 56% of their offensive plays. Say what you will about Spurrier - and yes, maybe he should've gone with it more - but it's not like he didn't go with the running game on Saturday night.
2. Unless you only look at turnovers, which was the difference
South Carolina turned the ball over three times:
1) An interception late in the first half, which took Carolina from the Kentucky 30 yard-line and gave the Wildcats the ball on the Carolina 43 yard-line. Kentucky hit a field goal, representing a 5-6 point swing (considering Fry's around 75% or so to hit a field goal on the drive, although of course we could've scored a touchdown).
2) An interception that Kentucky returned for a touchdown on 2nd and 10 from the Gamecock 20 yard-line. South Carolina probably expected 2 points or so from that drive at that point, and so the interception represents a 7-9 point swing, given that Kentucky would've gotten some point expectancy from getting the ball back that they lost when they had to kick off.
3) The last interception, where Carolina ceded possession around mid-field, a drive where they should've expected about 3-4 points or so, given where they stood.
On the other side, Kentucky fumbled on a 3rd and 6 sack (so no lost points expectancy, since they were punting anyways) in their own half of the field, and held the Gamecocks to a field goal. Carolina could have probably expected five points or so when they took possession, but the Wildcat defense bowed up when it needed to do so.
Roughly, that's a 12-point swing in Kentucky's favor. That's the difference and then some.
3. The field position game hurt badly
This came in part from turnovers, but special teams simply didn't flip the field against the Wildcats, leaving the Gamecocks with eight more yards to go on average for their 12 possessions, which represents an advantage of over 100 yards for Kentucky for the evening. That's a lot of work you leave on your offense.
The kickoff game didn't give either team much of an advantage with one exception - the 41-yard return by Demarco Robinson to set up the Kentucky drive that brought them back within seven points early in the first quarter.
In the game's seven punts, Landon Foster of Kentucky hit four, with two pinning the Gamecocks within their own 10 yard-line. Meanwhile, Tyler Hull never put Kentucky behind its own 25 yard-line, a huge swing.
4. The defense actually did a job stopping Kentucky when it got them behind schedule
It seems worth mentioning that when the Gamecocks put Kentucky in bad spots, it made them pay for it. On passing downs, the Wildcats averaged just 2.4 yards per play with a success rate of only 21 percent. That's outstanding, and it's the second week in a row that the Gamecock defense made sure it took advantage of situations where they put the other team in bad positions. That's a far cry from the defense we saw in the first three games.
5. But seriously, until the defense gets itself fixed, no lead is safe
But man, they were terrible on standard downs. Kentucky succeeded on a horrifying 62% of their standard downs, which meant the Gamecocks rarely put them into bad positions. And while they were succeeding, they weren't simply getting to 2nd and 5 - they were gaining 8.3 yards a play. When Carolina forced Kentucky into a bad situation, the Wildcats wilted. But when Kentucky had either run or pass plays available, they simply lined up and marched on the Gamecock defense.
Interestingly, Kentucky fans might wonder why they threw the ball so much as well on Saturday - they ran 34 rush plays against 30 pass plays, a lower rush percentage than the Gamecock ratio. But while Carolina put up very good rushing numbers, Kentucky matched them. And since the Wildcats didn't hurt themselves with turnovers, and won the battle on special teams, matching the Gamecocks was enough to earn a victory.