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South Carolina at No. 13 Kentucky: Three keys

What it’ll take to bag the upset.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 SC State at South Carolina Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The South Carolina Gamecocks are in for a tough test this evening when they renew their annual battle against the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats, a team that has been frustratingly successful against South Carolina in recent seasons. Future first-round quarterback Will Levis may not suit up for the Wildcats, but even with his absence, the Gamecocks will have a hard row to hoe. Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

Score some first quarter points. The Gamecocks finally ended their perplexing and frustrating first-quarter scoring drought last week when they picked up eight points off a touchdown and successful two-point conversion against S.C. State. However, it bears repeating that it was merely eight points, and in an understatement of the century, that isn’t a winning formula against SEC competition. I’m a broken record with this every week, but South Carolina desperately needs to get off to a better start offensively, especially when playing in a difficult road environment. With the bloom off the Spencer Rattler rose and the heat increasingly rising on Marcus Satterfield’s seat, there’s nothing else I can say. Results are required.

Limit turnovers. Continuing the offensive theme and tying back into the first point, this is another no-duh statement if your team is trying to pull off an upset on the road. Rattler has tossed some baffling interceptions this season, though the offensive line has also struggled to keep him upright and the pocket clean. The Gamecock offense is hamstrung enough as it is — and the Gamecock defense, accordingly, under enough pressure as it is — without also gift-wrapping the other team short fields and/or points. Of course, lightning-quick three-and-outs aren’t much better, so it would behoove South Carolina to find a way to play a little ball control.

Get the Kentucky offense off the field on third downs. While South Carolina’s defense is undeniably the strength of the team right now — if only because the offensive woes are so apparent — the Gamecocks have been struggling to bring on the opposing punt unit, even against lesser competition. (I know I don’t need to remind USC fans that Charlotte, at one point, was 7-for-7 on third downs in the first half of that game.) Nationally, South Carolina ranks an abysmal 90th in defensive third down conversions, allowing opponents to move the chains 41% of the time. Forcing Kentucky to punt will obviously be more difficult if Levis is healthy and ready to play, but figuring out how to get the opposing offense off the field remains a point of emphasis regardless.