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South Carolina vs. Kentucky: Five Observations from the 23-13 loss

Hello darkness my old friend....

Kentucky v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

I think this sums up everyone’s feelings about Saturday’s debacle. It’s not only a terrible loss this season it’s a terrible referendum on how far the program has fallen since 2013.

You can have fun torturing yourself by trying to rank which of these Kentucky losses were the worst, but one thing they all have in common is South Carolina succumbed to each one early in the season. I’m lost at an explanation as to how this keeps happening.

One thing is for certain: the flaws that were masked in the NC State and Missouri games were on full display against Kentucky and they’ll need to be fixed fast with Texas A&M and Arkansas looming in the next three weeks.

This was a totally avoidable loss — yet somehow South Carolina found a way to make it happen again.

Kentucky v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Deebo is done

It’s fire and brimstone time if you’re the South Carolina offense. Losing Deebo Samuel is not just bad, it’s end-of-days kind of awful for the Gamecocks. Samuel had five of South Carolina’s 13 touchdowns this season, that’s over a third for those of you mathematically challenged folks out there.

Let’s be frank — if Deebo didn’t play in the NC State game that’s a loss for South Carolina. Samuel has proven himself to be that kind of a dynamic player -- you could even make the argument without Samuel SC never gets the momentum to push past Missouri last week.

No one will be able to replace Samuel, so that’s an irrelevant conversation to have. Someone else —whether it be Shi Smith, Ortre Smith or Chad Terrell — has to step up as the No. 3 receiver while Bryan Edwards and Hayden Hurst try to make up the work lost by Samuel.

Run game absence

Outside the second half of the Missouri game, South Carolina’s offense has been one dimensional and it all falls on the shoulders of the run game. Whether it be the line’s inability to block, OC Kurt Roper’s decisions of when-or-when-not-to run or the backs not hitting open holes — the Gamecocks have nothing on the ground.

South Carolina could not establish any semblance of a run game against a Kentucky team who was one of the worst run defenses in the country last season. South Carolina has talented backs in Ty’son Williams, AJ Turner and Rico Dowdle -- so what gives?

Williams didn’t get a single carry last night while Turner and Dowdle combined for 35 yards on 15 carries with not a single run of over ten yards. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the run game going, but it’s clear Jake Bentley can’t throw his way into a win yet.

WTF is kicking anyway?

I never thought I would be so spoiled by Elliot Fry. It’s so easy to take a good kicker for granted. Sure, Fry missed some head scratchers every now and then but when you needed him he always made the money kick. Now? I don’t know what South Carolina’s going to do at kicker.

Parker White missed both of his field goals and Alexander Wozniak missed a field goal and a PAT. Combined, they were 1-5 on kicks. Those ten points make this a tie game and we may not all be sulking right now had they all been converted. You need a reliable kicker when the offense can’t get going and it’s pretty clear SC does not have that luxury.

There’s plenty of time for either White or Wozniak to develop into reliable kickers considering they’re both just freshman, but right now SC needs to find and answer or start finishing drives for touchdowns.

Speaking of which...

SC’s inability to finish drives cost them

If you really want to boil down one reason why South Carolina didn’t win this would be it right here. South Carolina went inside the Kentucky 40 yard line seven times and came away with seven points. That’s awful -- no other way to put it.

One of Bill Connelly’s five factors of football is a team’s ability to finish drives -- converting all scoring opportunities into touchdowns. If work your way inside the opponent’s 40, you should come away with points — preferably a touchdown but at least a field goal.

Coming into this game South Carolina was ranked 15th in the country in drive finishing at 5.78 points per 40 trip. Tonight they averaged one point per 40 trip. I don’t really have an explanation for it. Call it nerves of the first home game or whatever you’d like — this is why South Carolina lost.

South Carolina’s defense was good, but not good enough

At the end of the night South Carolina’s defense allowed 4.8 yards per play — on most nights that’ll be good enough to get you by. They forced two turnovers and held a very talented back in Bennie Snell Jr. to 3.2 yards a carry.

However for some reason on third down South Carolina couldn’t stop Kentucky. The Wildcats were 9-16 on third downs which negated a lot of fine 1st and 2nd down stops by the Gamecock defense. DC Travaris Robinson was outdone in those 3rd down play calling situations by Kentucky OC Eddie Gran.

Unlike last week against Missouri, SC couldn’t pressure Stefan Johnson either. The Gamecocks got pressure on just 11.1 percent of their pass snaps — way down from last week’s 28.5 percent. Maybe this is all fluky just three games in, but not even 24 hours removed it sure doesn’t feel like it.