We’ve moved to the halfway point in the most brutal part of Kentucky’s schedule and the team currently sits at 1-3 with a trip to South Carolina looming this weekend. The Gamecocks have been very good so far this season, but there will be some chinks in the armor that could provide the Wildcats an opportunity to pull off the upset.
When Kentucky has the ball:
The Wildcats have been abysmal on offense over the past two weeks. That’s all you can really say. The passing game is inconsistent at best and nonexistent at worst. Ultimately, the team needs to see something out of the quarterback position that just does not appear to be available at this time. Maxwell Smith was supposed to be the accurate pocket passer that could move the offense down the field and get rid of the ball quickly. Against BCS opponents, Smith is completing a paltry 52.5% of his passes for 199 yards for zero touchdowns and he’s taken four sacks. Sophomore Jalen Whitlow was supposed to be an electric athlete that could distribute the ball from the pocket, avoid pressure, and make plays on the ground. Against BCS opponents, Whitlow has completed 13 of 23 attempts for a pedestrian 140 yards and one touchdown. He has also only managed to compile 46 rushing yards on 15 attempts. If the quarterback play doesn’t improve, the performances of the running backs and receivers will be irrelevant. The South Carolina defense won’t make things easy for the Kentucky offense either. Potential number one draft Pick Jadaveon Clowney is as good of a defensive end as there is in the country and should force double-teams on nearly every play. The defensive front seven as a whole is as good as they come and has managed to pile up 12 sacks on the season so far. If the quarterbacks aren’t efficient and careful, they could both be in for a lot of trouble.
When South Carolina has the ball:
The Gamecocks looked like they might be coming in with a new quarterback, but it now appears that Connor Shaw will be back under center this week. He is a true dual-threat quarterback that is averaging 166 yards a game through the air and 58 yards a game on the ground. As good as he is, the offense really centers around running back Mike Davis and his ability to do it all from the backfield. Davis is averaging 158.8 yards a game in total offense and is a capable receiver as well as a talented rusher. A solid offensive line allows him to average over 7 yards per carry on the ground and has also only allowed four sacks on the season. Kentucky’s defense should be effective against the passing game though, where inexperience at receiver has kept the Gamecocks from exploding on offense. The real concern will be shutting down a rushing attack that looks unstoppable at times and forcing Shaw to win with his arm. The tackling has improved greatly over the season and will need to continue to improve this week.
The players you need to know for USC:
#7 – Jadeveon Clowney – DE
You don’t just become the most sought after recruit in the country by accident, and Clowney has more than lived p to his lofty billing as the top rated recruit in the country back in his senior year. His combination of size and speed is borderline unfair and he has NFL scouts drooling over his abilities. He will be matched up on Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle, so it will be imperative for those two to hold their own against him. Expect plenty of chips and double teams from the backs and tight ends.
#28 – Mike Davis – RB
Davis will see some of his old friends again when the Stephenson (Stone Mountain, GA) graduate takes on Ray Sanders, Ronnie Shields, and Jabari Johnson of Kentucky. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Davis decides to take it easy on his former teammates and he has proved to be a versatile nightmare out of South Carolina’s backfield. Kentucky will need to shut him down to win this game.
#15 – Jimmy Legree – DB
He’s not quite as heralded as some of his other teammates, but Legree is putting together a very impressive senior season that includes being fourth on the team with 20 tackles, second on tackles for a loss with 4, and leading the team in interceptions with 2. If the defensive front pressures the Kentucky quarterbacks into a mistake, Legree will be more than happy to capitalize.
#23 – Bruce Ellington – WR
Kentucky fans likely recognize Ellington’s name from his time starring as the Gamecocks’ point guard for the basketball team. In addition to being a standout on the hardwood, Ellington is the football squad’s leading receiver and is also the team’s kick and punt return man as well. He is electric with the ball in his hands and is a threat to score any time he touches it.
Potential breakout players:
#1 – Ryan Timmons – WR
We already know that Timmons is a talented player but he has yet to really take over a game. With a passing attack that cant seem to get going, look for the staff to find creative ways to move the ball and manufacture some offense. Timmons has been very effective on the jet sweep play and can turn a simple screen into a big play in an instant.
#21 – Nate Willis – CB
Willis was a late addition to the roster and has taken a little time to adjust to division 1 ball. Now that he’s four games and a bye week in, Willis seems to be getting comfortable and had his best game of the season against Florida. With Connor Shaw occasionally getting greedy and throwing one up, don’t count Willis out to come down with it.
#24 – Blake McClain – DEFENSE
It’s tough to give McClain a position. He’s played linebacker, safety, and even corner this season and he’s done it all extremely well. Some people are just “gamers” and McClain appears to fit that mold as well as a defensive player possibly could, let alone a true freshman. Look for him to finally get a turnover or make a big play against an offense that does make some mistakes.
#77 – Darrian Miller
It might seem strange to see a junior offensive tackle that has started for a large portion of his career in “breakout” players. For Miller though, this game is a huge opportunity to show to NFL scouts that he has what it takes to play on Sundays by slowing down Jadeveon Clowney. If he can keep Clowney at bay without needing constant double teams and chips, it will allow the offense to operate more openly and could lead to the unit clicking earlier in the game.
We all new this was going to be a rebuilding year and that this young team would have to take their lumps against the toughest schedule in the country, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. After fighting valiantly against Louisville and Florida, Kentucky is likely to be overmatched again, and this time it will be outside of Commonwealth Stadium in an extremely hostile atmosphere. With the unexpected struggles of the offense to do just about anything right, the defense is likely to be left on the field or 35+ minutes again this week and could ultimately be worn down by a brutal USC running game. With no confidence in our offense, I just don’t see Kentucky winning this one. In fact, keeping the game within three scores would be a moral victory for the defense.
South Carolina 31 – Kentucky 10