Gamecocks look to end season strong vs. Kentucky

The South Carolina defense bottles up a Georgia ball carrier during a game at Williams-Brice...
The South Carolina defense bottles up a Georgia ball carrier during a game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2020.(Sideline Carolina)
Updated: Dec. 5, 2020 at 1:35 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been a long year for South Carolina players and fans.

From the long wait to determine if a season would even take place due to COVID-19 to the dismissal of will Muschamp just past the midway point of the season, the Gamecocks have reached the final stop on a rigorous SEC schedule. This week, Carolina faces SEC East rival Kentucky in its season finale.

“Coach [Mark] Stoops has done a great job,” said Gamecocks interim head coach Mike Bobo. “I remember when he came into the league. I was still at the University of Georgia and he’s built that program and he’s built it around toughness. I know they’ve had some COVID issues and they had an opt-out [Monday], but I think we’re all dealing with issues right now at every team, but we’ve got an opportunity to play and we’re going to have to be ready because this is a physical football team.”

The Wildcats enter Saturday’s game at Kroger Field with a 3-6 record. In their last contest, Kentucky were handed a 34-10 loss by Florida. In the last two games, Kentucky has given up 97 points to opponents. However, Carolina can’t focus on the team’s recent setbacks if they hope to snap its own five-game losing streak.

On offense for the Wildcats, it all starts with quarterback Terry Wilson The 6-foot-3 senior has thrown for 894 yards, rushed for 364 yards, and accounted for 11 touchdowns this year. Kentucky’s dual-threat quarterback poses a definite threat for the Gamecocks with his arm and with his legs.

“Both teams will have the luxury of a quarterback run game,” said Bobo. “They have a lot more reps and experience at it than we do. That’s what they do. That’s kind of how they built their offense. Now, they do have really, really good passing schemes off their run action and a lot of four-vertical stuff, a lot of switch verticals, a lot of getting backs and putting them on wheel routes and things that we’ve got to be good with our eyes in the back end.”

The Wildcats will also have the luxury of having two running backs that can make plays out of the backfield in Chris Rodriguez and Asim Rose. Combined, both rushers have totaled 979 yards and seven touchdowns this season for the Wildcats.

However, Kentucky hasn’t been a very explosive offense this year. The Wildcats average 19.5 points per game. Kentucky is 12th in the SEC in scoring offense and last in the league in total offense (291.8 yards per game).

If the Gamecocks are going to stop Kentucky offensively on Saturday, they’ll have to do without Ernest Jones. The Carolina linebacker has been ruled out due to an ankle injury.

On the other side of the ball, Kentucky can present problems for opponents with its defense. The Wildcats are seventh in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), fifth in total defense (385.1 yards per game), second in pass defense (232.9 yards per game), and eighth in rush defense (152.2 yards per game).

“Defensively, they’re based out of a 3-4 defense,” Bobo explained. “They’ve got aggressive guys outside that can run. Up front, they’re huge.”

The team is led by junior inside linebacker Jamin Davis with 79 tackles. The Wildcats also have senior outside linebacker Jamar Watson, who leads Kentucky with five sacks and 6.52 tackles for loss. Defensive back Kelvin Joseph has four interceptions for the Wildcats this year.

“They’ve got guys that can fly around defensively,” Bobo said. “I think they’re first or second in the league in interceptions. They do a great job because they play a lot of vision coverage. They play a lot of zone and, if you’re not accurate in your passes or try to push the ball downfield too much in zone coverage, it’s where they get interceptions.

While a win over Kentucky is the obvious objective, the Gamecocks also have one other box they’d like to check while in Lexington on Saturday. Carolina will aim to help running back Kevin Harris reach 1,000 yards this season. Harris needs just 72 yards rushing to join the likes of George Rogers, Marcus Lattimore, and Duce Staley in the fraternity of 1,000-yard rushers for the Gamecocks.

What could help South Carolina with that is having Shi Smith back on the field,. The team’s leading receiver is slated to be back in action after being in concussion protocol.

South Carolina will face Kentucky at Kroger Field on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The game will be shown on the SEC Network.

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