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South Carolina at No. 17 Kentucky: Keys and a pick

What needs to happen for this streak to end?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Finally — the game we’ve all been waiting for and stressing about. The South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Lexington, Ky., this evening to square off with the surging Wildcats, who are the up-and-coming darlings of the SEC East after posting big wins against Florida and Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have a little bit of momentum of their own after smacking Vanderbilt in Nashville last week when many called for them to slip into a downward spiral. With Kentucky’s four-game winning streak looming, what needs to happen for South Carolina to get that monkey off its back?

The keys

Run the ball. South Carolina’s running game has shown up in fits and starts, which is an issue that predates this season and has yet to be ironed out. The backs were a no-show against Georgia, then enjoyed great success against Vanderbilt. I’m a little worried at how boom-or-bust this unit seems, but they have shown the ability to open up this offense. The Gamecocks need Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams, and Co. to help with controlling the clock and getting South Carolina in manageable down and distance situations.

Stop the run. Look, we all know Benny Snell is a special player, and we all know he’s going to get his yards. You can’t really stop a back like that, but you can contain him. An ugly theme during this streak has been a complete inability for South Carolina to stop UK’s rushing attack — not just from their backs, but also from their quarterbacks. It goes without saying the Gamecocks need to find a way to limit the damage from Snell and force quarterback Terry Wilson into passing situations, where he’s not nearly as comfortable.

Don’t let special teams be a liability. Last year, the Gamecocks missed three field goals and an extra point. The Gamecocks also just so happened to lose by 10 points. Parker White is having an accurate season so far, but he hasn’t attempted a kick longer than 40 yards yet. If he can keep it up and South Carolina can get a couple big kick or punt returns to set up short fields, that would be an incredible improvement on last season’s disastrous effort.

The pick

I’m going to stick to what I’ve been calling for all week, which is finally seeing an end to the streak with a close, hard-fought, 28-24 South Carolina victory. This game could absolutely go either way — as evidenced by the constant flip-flopping of the betting line — and Kentucky does have an edge with the streak and a night game in Lexington. Although you never really know until the lights come on, the Gamecocks seem more focused this time around, and it’s hard to understate how important a healthy Deebo Samuel and Not Kurt Roper offensive coordinator is to this team. Here’s hoping.