The South Carolina Gamecocks continued their trend of being pretty terrible for long stretches of game time, and came up short in a bid to salvage a disastrous first-half performance. The game marked Kentucky's first road win in six seasons, snapping a 22-game road losing streak. It was also the first time the Wildcats have beaten South Carolina in consecutive games.
It was a choppy, uneven performance for both teams, but our offense was shaky from the start. A great punt by Sean Kelly and Skai Moore's third interception of the season set the offense up for a quick score on a Connor Mitch run in the first quarter. This would be the last time we had anything nice to say about them until much later.
The defense was exposed, telegraphing their coverages and continuously let Kentucky slip tackles--if they managed to make contact at all. There were plenty of guys flying around near the ball, but they'd have had better accuracy if Lorenzo Ward had elected to fire the secondary out of a trebuchet. The Gamecocks gave up 176 ground yards in the first half, ceding a touchdown each to backs Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton. QB Patrick Towles even got in on the running action, scoring an easy 6 on a keeper late in the half.
The offensive performance proved as anemic as many feared, with Mitch looking harried in the pocket with no accuracy when he got the ball off. They frustratingly kept trying to establish a passing game, in spite of some strong rushes, and never managed to get much of a rhythm going. Spotting a 17-point lead at the half was as telling as it was embarrassing. Getting crushed in the home opener by a basketball school is not okay, you guys.
For the second half, it was Kentucky's turn to struggle as our defense came out and looked like an entirely different unit. They held Kentucky to one first down between the opening of the third quarter and Perry Orth's 4th quarter interception, and the Gamecock's offense didn't punt in the second half. This is the kind of game you should be playing against Kentucky, not 2015's darkest timeline Kentucky, which actually resemble division contenders if you squint and tilt your head at the right angle.
The offense was a little better in the third. That was after Mitch was sidelined with an injury late in the first half, causing him to leave the game for the second time in as many starts. He separated his shoulder and will miss four to six weeks.
This may be mercy. The offensive line hadn't been doing him many favors (watching that strong side sack featuring two defenders getting to him untouched was just cruel), but Mitch has been inconsistent, wildly inaccurate and has held on to the ball way too long thus far this season. He's a talented guy, but hasn't looked ready for game speed all year.
Backup and new starter Perry Orth provided a spark on offense. Orth looked calmer and was able to hit his targets. They found some rhythm, spread the ball around and moved the chains. After settling for a couple of field goals, Orth connected with Jerell Adams on on a 33-yard pass for his first career TD. The Gamecocks out gained Kentucky 417-399, Brandon Wilds finished his night with sixteen carries and 106 yards, and Pharoh Cooper had nine catches for 100 yards. Things were finally coming together on both sides of the ball for the first time in 2015 and a come-from-behind victory seemed plausible. Then that fumbled two-point conversion for a safety happened.
Carolina's next drive started while I was still picking myself off the floor, but I have reliable reports that it looked promising. Until Orth tried to force a pass everyone saw getting picked off the moment the ball left his hands, anyway. Seemingly on queue, the defense chose that exact moment to start letting Kentucky get first downs again and they were able to run out the clock for a win.
Spurrier wasn't wrong during his post-game remarks, stating that we often play games that seem to come down to one or two plays. A home game against a team that you should beat should never be in that column, however. The defense's inability to get anything right in the first half put the team in an almost insurmountable hole. The offensive play calling was inexplicable throughout the game--especially in red zone situations. When things were looking up, the untimely fumble and game killing INT came with time left on the clock and any number of missed opportunities in the first three quarters to ponder.
This team has shown flashes that it can execute at a high level, and they should be expected to do so more than 25% of the time. And, well, that's about the best I can spin it. This is not promising. Unless your goal is to watch a team alternate between struggling to sneak away with a win and getting blown out every week, it might be time to consider other viewing options. The Gamecocks have a week to make some adjustments before traveling to UGA, where they'll hope to get back on track. Let's shoot for showing up for half of that game.