Ah, the Kentucky Wildcats: an opponent that South Carolina fans used to breathe a sigh of relief about, and now a newly-minted nemesis that Gamecocks grit their teeth and develop tension headaches over. Recent history and the current state of the programs would, unfortunately, suggest that UK is the better team — but South Carolina is finally starting its most talented quarterback, and will be hosting the Cats in what is sure to be a raucous environment. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: If Shane Beamer wants to prove he’s taking this team out of the gutter, it starts with, bare minimum, a competitive effort tonight. Here’s how the Gamecocks can put one forth.
For the love of god, cut down on the penalties. A frustrating hallmark of Will Muschamp’s program has yet to be exorcised, as the Gamecocks are still committing all manner of penalties with wild abandon. The lack of discipline isn’t just aggravating to watch; it’s punishing the Gamecocks after good plays and hampering them in down and distance on others. Just last week, South Carolina was flagged nine times for 70 yards — largely for procedural offenses like false starts, but also for flat out poor decisions like taunting. This bugaboo was present during the Eastern Illinois and East Carolina games as well, but USC’s superior talent allowed it to weather the storm of flags, while against Georgia, it was a very different story. Kentucky may not be the No. 2 team in the country, but it’s certainly a quality opponent, and if this game is close, the very last thing you need is unforced errors.
Run the dang ball. Given the overall team speed and ferocity of Georgia’s defense, particularly its line and linebackers, it’s no surprise the Gamecocks weren’t able to generate much on the ground against the Bulldogs. The opportunity for the backs to make some noise should be there, however, against Kentucky. Kevin Harris, who may still be knocking some rust off after a back surgery, went for 210 yards (!) against the Cats last season, and Juju McDowell, ZaQuandre White, and MarShawn Lloyd have all shown flashes this year. It’s important for any offense to not be rendered one-dimensional like the Gamecocks were last week, and to my eye, there were multiple run plays that could have been big gains were it not for Georgia’s superior athleticism. With South Carolina’s current personnel, the offense needs to run through the rushing attack for the Gamecocks to have success.
Turn the Wildcats over. Kentucky is currently -6 in the turnover margin and quarterback Will Levis has four picks to go with his seven touchdowns, so a Gamecock defense that has been fairly opportunistic so far has a chance for more takeaways here. Turnovers are always a crucial ingredient in an upset or close victory, so USC needs to continue this trend and cash in where they can.