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Kentucky vs. South Carolina: Opponent Spotlight

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Mark Stoops’ Cats ready to contend in SEC East race.

NCAA Football: Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into his fifth season in Lexington, Mark Stoops is having to deal with lofty expectations for the first time at Kentucky. After starting 0-2 last season, Stoops steered Kentucky to a 7-6 season including four SEC wins, a first during his tenure. On of those conference wins came against South Carolina. That win in Lexington gave the Cats their third straight victory over the Gamecocks.

Head Coach: Mark Stoops. Fifth season (21-30).

Record: 2-0

Last Week: 27-16 win over Eastern Kentucky (FCS).

Offensive playmaker: RB Benny Snell Jr.

Top Defender: DB Mike Edwards

Weakness: Wide receivers

Kentucky has had a problem with starting off the season slow the last few years. The Wildcats began the 2016 season with a home defeat to Southern Miss and a hammering in Gainesville at the hands of Florida. This season they won on the road against Southern Miss but then struggled with Eastern Kentucky (FCS) at home last week. The Cats trailed by ten in the second quarter before QB Stephen Johnson found TE C.J. Conrad for a score right before the half. Snell put the Cats on top with a 25-yard score late in the third. Johnson then used his legs to extend the Kentucky lead to eight before a field goal ended Lexington’s worries late in the fourth quarter.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky relies very heavily upon the run game. Snell has already carried the ball 39 times in the first two games. Johnson also scrambles from the pocket with a pair of rushing scores already. Sihiem King will spell Snell in the backfield, he had 61 yards on nine carries last week.

The defense has been solid so far for the Cats. They rank fifth nationally in turnover margin (tied with the Gamecocks) and a scoop-and-score by Denzil Ware late in the third quarter was the difference in their win over Southern Miss. The Cats also bring a run defense that currently sits as the 11th best in the nation, giving up 58.5 yards a game so far. Top DB Mike Edwards patrols the secondary for the Cats. No DB had more tackles in the SEC last year than the junior as he was named second team all-conference by the AP. He had three INTs to go with those stops in 2016, including picking off Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson twice. Edwards got off the mark last week, intercepting EKU’s Tim Boyle.

One things that has stood out about Kentucky is their lack of explosiveness in the wide receiver group. The Cats leading pass catcher through two games is TE C.J. Conrad with five catches for 125 and a pair of touchdowns. Only senior WR Blake Bone (3-93 yards) is within sixty yards of Conrad. The Gamecocks secondary should be able to keep the Cats in check on the outside allowing them to load the box to help against Johnson and Snell.