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South Carolina vs. Kentucky: Keys and a pick

Oh look, it’s another season-defining game.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks once again find themselves on a precipice, with this one even more dangerous than the last: win the game, and there’s something to be salvaged moving forward; lose, and circumstances spin all but completely out of control. It’s this pressure-packed environment the Gamecocks must deal with as they face the Kentucky Wildcats, owners of an unprecedented and frustrating five-game winning streak over USC. The good news: It’s in Columbia, it’s a night game, and Benny Snell isn’t a Wildcat anymore.

The keys

Just...try to run the ball. Somehow. After a surprisingly productive performance against Alabama, South Carolina’s running game reverted to its usual inconsistency and disappeared against Missouri. Rico Dowdle only had eight carries and Tavien Feaster had a measly six as the Gamecocks amassed the princely total of 16 (sixteen) rushing yards. This is, as you might suspect, a Really Big Problem, especially if Ryan Hilinski is still struggling with elbow pain (and therefore his accuracy) today. Dowdle has been running like a man possessed and Feaster has had his moments as well, so the staff needs to figure out how to get the ball in their hands more consistently — even if it’s in the short passing game and not necessarily “traditional” running plays.

Play some keepaway. This feeds into the previous point, because if you’ve established the run, you can control dominate time of possession and limit your opponent’s scoring chances. The South Carolina defense definitely has its problems this season, but the offense’s rapid-fire three-and-outs that take all of 30 seconds off the clock is really not helping matters. If the Gamecocks can go on some sustained drives, that has the benefit of both keeping the ball away from Kentucky and letting the defense regroup. The Missouri loss was a great example of a gassed defense having no choice but to yield.

Keep up the good work on special teams. I thought this could be critical against Missouri, but sadly, the score wasn’t close enough in the fourth quarter for it to be a factor. Kentucky missed two field goals last week, so if the Gamecocks can continue to be reliable in that department, it might go a long way toward ensuring a victory.

The pick

This feels like a frustrating toss-up game that’s destined to be full of inexplicable coaching decisions and unfortunately-timed player errors — as most of the recent games against UK have been. Depending on Hilinski’s health and whether Kentucky’s Smith continues handing out turnovers, this could be an ugly, low-scoring, 21-14 or 21-10 kind of game. I’m going to pick South Carolina here for a couple reasons: UK, while not a walkover, is also clearly not the same outfit that went 10-3 last season; and the law of averages says this just has to happen eventually, more likely sooner rather than later at this point. That’s how that works, right? Let us pray.