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2018 Opponent Preview: Kentucky

Everyone’s faaaavorite East opponent from the past four years.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks continue their first road swing of the season when they make a stop in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 29 to take on the Wildcats. Once a middling division foe that rarely struck fear into Gamecock hearts, the Wildcats have harnessed heretofore unknown dark magics to run up an unprecedented four-game winning streak against South Carolina. It goes without saying that if the Gamecocks want to take another step forward in 2018, snapping their current skid to Kentucky is essential.

Last meeting: In a mind-numbing home opener, the Gamecocks got more or less beaten at their own game. Kentucky played just well enough to not lose, while sprinkling in some big plays and taking advantage of South Carolina turnovers and special teams miscues. The game was, in virtually every respect, a Murphy’s Law meltdown: As if the play on the field wasn’t bad enough, star receiver Deebo Samuel was lost for the season with an injury in the second half, and it was an otherwise disastrous event that included traffic, concessions, and other stadium problems. Terrible playcalling on 4th and 1? Sure. Missed field goals? You got it. Bathrooms out of order? Coming right up! It was a nightmare, and you have my apologies for making you relive it.

Last season: Much like the previous three years, the Wildcats’ win over South Carolina was seen as a stamp of legitimacy, and a sign that Kentucky would finally live up to the dark horse status some pundits had given them. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, beating the Gamecocks guaranteed no such ascendancy: Kentucky finished 7-6 (4-4 SEC), good for third in the Eastern division behind South Carolina, and suffered a loss to Northwestern in the Music City Bowl. While the UK brass seems satisfied with coach Mark Stoops’ performance for now, there’s a sense the Wildcats still need to take the next step and break that six-to-seven win plateau.

Player to watch out for: Here’s the thing: Kentucky doesn’t have a quarterback right now. In fact, not only do the Wildcats not have a quarterback, they don’t have anyone on their roster who has taken a Division I snap. That’s good news, since Stephen Johnson was a dynamic and troublesome signal-caller that the Gamecocks struggled to handle, but junior running back Benny Snell is still on the team — and Snell has punished South Carolina, much like Boom Williams before him. In two games against USC, Snell has put together 175 yards rushing with three touchdowns, which may not seem particularly eye-popping, but he’s always there to give the Cats a big play when they need it the most. South Carolina needs to lock Snell down and prevent him from a third straight year of playing the role of Gamecock Killer.

Prognosis: Since Stoops’ arrival, the Wildcats’ record has consistently hovered in the .500 range, and so it’s hard to project anything different for UK. However, the Wildcats could find themselves missing a bowl if their quarterback situation doesn’t come together.