We almost had ourselves a rare occurrence on Saturday: a Sun Belt team beating an SEC team. And while Louisiana-Lafayette came close against Kentucky, they couldn't finish the job in a 40-33 loss at Commonwealth Stadium. (In case you're wondering, the last SEC team to lose to a Sun Belt opponent? Kentucky, on August 31, 2013 - their season opener - against Western Kentucky.)
The Wildcats are coming to Williams-Brice Stadium as the South Carolina Gamecocks open their 2015 home slate. Here's what their near miss against the Ragin' Cajuns tells us about Saturday night's contest:
--UL-Lafayette is a good team. The game could very well be foreshadowing for how the Wildcats' season will go, but Louisiana-Lafayette is a good team, and they have been for several years under head coach Mark Hudspeth. Before he took the helm of the Cajuns' program, they were 3-9. They've now recorded a 9-4 mark in each of his previous four seasons at the helm, including four straight New Orleans Bowl victories. They have a stout running attack that hung 247 yards on the Wildcats and a strong presence up front that held teams to just over 142 yards last season. That likely takes a hit when a guy like Christian Ringo (20.0 TFLs, 11.5 sacks) graduates, and, sure, they gave up 40, but Hudspeth's built a strong program down in the Bayou.
--The Wildcats aren't a team to be taken lightly. Mark Stoops knows that an SEC team losing to a Sun Belt team wouldn't look good, but getting into an offensive shootout doesn't look that great, either. He also knows that beating a Gamecocks team with a first-year starter and a team that gave up a good chunk of yards to North Carolina on the ground isn't out of the realm of possibility. Kentucky will enter Saturday's matchup with the mindset of a program looking to validate itself as a contender in the division after a six-game losing streak to end 2014. They do lose Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith from their defense, so that will lead to some dropoff, but with guys like A.J. Stamps and Jojo Kemp back in the fold, plus a capable QB in Patrick Towles, they'll be ready.
--The Gamecocks' defense will be better prepared than last year. The Gamecocks weren't exactly riding high before they lost to Kentucky last year (having lost at home against Mizzou a week earlier and barely slipping away with a W at Vandy before that), but many thought it would be a sure bet that they would beat the Wildcats. Not so much. The signs might have already been there considering that they surrendered 52 against Texas A&M at home, gave up 35 to Georgia in a win and allowed 34 to Vandy. (By the way, Kentucky held the Commodores to a single touchdown a week prior.) Allowing an average of 33 points a game in your first five contests doesn't really lend itself to the fact that you're setting yourself up for success. Thursday's effort against North Carolina in Jon Hoke's debut, while not perfect, was much improved from what we saw last year, and will be much better than they were in the loss to the Wildcats last season.
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