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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Three Keys and a Prediction

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The Gamecocks take on their third conference opponent on the road in four weeks looking to improve to 3-1.

East Carolina v South Carolina Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/ Getty Images

South Carolina vs. Kentucky is quickly turning into more of a rivalry than Gamecock fans ever wanted. After winning 10 in a row, the series is split 3-3 over the last six seasons. The Wildcats are riding a two game winning streak and looking for their first-ever three game streak against South Carolina.

What’ll take for the Gamecocks to prevent such a feat and ride out of the commonwealth with a win?

Three Keys to the Game

1. Secure safeties. Arguably one of the weaker position units going into the season, Will Muschamp knew he would have his hands full as the safeties coach. That said, the idea that he would be starting a senior (Chris Moody) who left the program, returned, and changed positions all in the same offseason, and a sophomore junior college transfer (Steven Montac) who wasn’t on the roster as late as the preseason, seems like a foreign idea even to the head coach.

That’s where Muschamp and his defensive staff are through a little over three weeks into the season. An uneasy feeling going up against a team that just put up 62 points the week before, albeit to New Mexico State.

I don’t even think Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops thought backup QB Stephen Johnson would look as good as he did a week ago, but he did, and now the Gamecocks, with their unpredictable secondary, are tasked with slowing down his momentum. A performance out of the secondary similar to the one we saw against ECU would pay huge dividends in Lexington.

2. Silence the boom. Kentucky running back Stanley “Boom” Williams ran up and down the field against New Mexico State last week to the tune of 180 yards on 18 carries. Couple that with 136 yards and four TD’s from freshman running back Benny Snell and a Wildcat threat in JoJo Kemp, and the ‘Cats are looking just fine in the running game. If you think the Gamecocks defense wasn’t tested with a running attack against ECU last week, they’ll get to prove themselves Saturday. Kentucky’s offense starts with the running game. If South Carolina can limit their backs to 2.5 yards per carry or under and have the same success it had last week getting into the backfield, it’ll put more pressure on a young and inexperienced QB to force some plays, knowing he doesn’t have a defense to back him up. Stopping the Kentucky run may just be the key to slowing down their offense.

3. Support system. Heading into the season’s fourth game, we think South Carolina has an undisputed QB1. However, said QB1 is an 18-year old true freshman making his second career start and first on the road. If he leaves the commonwealth remaining South Carolina’s starter, that’ll be success enough. For him to do that, though, and for the Gamecocks offense to keep pace with yet another prolific offense, he’ll need the support from everyone around him on the field. The offensive line must continue to get better. David Williams needs to run with his head up and eyes open. A.J. Turner needs to take care of the ball. And lastly, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards need to serve as releases and make plays and catches when asked. While he has the athleticism and ability, we can’t ask McIlwain to carry the offense on his shoulders. That lies on everyone else out there with him. He’s just got to get the ball to the right people at the right time.

Prediction

Other than letting Mississippi State’s QB run free, I’ve been impressed with the Gamecocks defense so far in 2016 and really see a unit trying to improve and build off every snap and every possession. I feel like they got better as the game wore on against ECU and showed a lot of grit not breaking when they easily could have. The Gamecocks will need the same kind of relentlessness against the Wildcats, but I think they’ll find it to get the job done.

South Carolina 27 - Kentucky 23.