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South Carolina vs. Kentucky: Game Preview

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The first true test of the season arrives.

Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

SEC play continues this weekend in Williams-Brice, as the South Carolina Gamecocks return home to face the Kentucky Wildcats under the lights. While this series has been historically lopsided in USC’s favor, the Cats have flipped the script in recent seasons, winning six of the last seven matchups and spiking the blood pressure of Gamecock fans everywhere. If East Carolina was an early season must-win (and it was), this tilt against Kentucky is even more critical if Shane Beamer wants to establish his bonafides and show that this team is heading in the right direction. Win, and these Gamecocks could have the confidence to exceed preseason projections; lose, and things could come apart in a hurry. No pressure!

What have the Wildcats been up to lately? Kentucky is 3-0 and has an SEC victory to its credit, having beaten Missouri 35-28 in Week 2. While the Cats handled their season-opening cupcake, Louisiana-Monroe, without much issue, they were asleep at the wheel against FCS Chattanooga last week and got away with an ugly 28-23 victory.

What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? I think we’re finally starting to figure this out (emphasis on “I think”). Quarterback Luke Doty is good to go, and while he didn’t shock the world against Georgia, he clearly has more talent than Zeb Noland based off the eye test alone — and the passing aspect of his game looks improved from last year, too. However, it’s Doty’s mobility and legitimate threat to run, especially when dealing with this woeful offensive line, that’s arguably the most important element here. I’m also hopeful the Gamecocks’ stable of backs, particularly Kevin Harris — who had a huge, 210-yard game against UK last year — gets going again, now that they aren’t running into the teeth of one of the country’s top defenses. More highlight reel catches from Josh Vann and Jalen Brooks (minus the taunting flags!) would be appreciated as well.

What happens when the Wildcats have the ball? Penn State transfer quarterback Will Levis has this gang off to a good start — he’s already racked up 800 yards and seven touchdowns, while the Wildcats are averaging 36 points per game and in the SEC’s upper echelon offensively in multiple categories. There’s also Nebraska transfer receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who’s compiled 100-yard games in all three of UK’s contests this season and is a true game-breaking threat. The Gamecock defense has had a bit of a knack for interceptions so far, and with the Wildcats sporting a -6 turnover margin, takeaways could be key.

What are we wearing? Working off another assumption, I imagine we’ll see the classic white/garnet/white look again, or perhaps the Big Game Garnet combo with white helmets since this is a rare home kick at night. I don’t love the idea of Kentucky being an opponent worthy of breaking those out against, but well, here we are.

How are we feeling about this? I don’t know, man. This is the first true measuring stick game South Carolina has had this season, and while Kentucky is obviously an established program running smoothly under Mark Stoops, the Gamecocks still have a good chance to make a statement in this one. I think the combination of Doty starting and a bloodthirsty home crowd could make the difference, so my heart says USC can come away with a narrow win. But this series has been utterly cursed for the better part of a decade now, so there’s really no telling how Saturday night unfolds — and, credit to UK, they’ve got some talented pieces in place. Ultimately, I consider this game a textbook tossup.