COLUMBIA, S.C — A strange odor seemed to permeate Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday night.
It was the air of desperation, and South Carolina's defense reeked of it.
The Gamecocks had to survive a scare from 1-4 Kentucky to hold on for a 35-28 victory, with South Carolina's struggles coming exclusively on the defensive end.
The Gamecocks were playing without defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who surprised coaches with his decision to sit out the game with bruised ribs.
Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney told him before the game that he couldn't go.
"I don't want to get into all that," said an obviously frustrated Spurrier. "He told me he couldn't play. Ribs hurt. Couldn't run. I said, 'That's fine. You don't have to play. We'll move on.' He wasn't able to practice on Thursday. He may not be able to play next week, I don't know. We're not going to worry about it, I can assure you that. If he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to. As simple as that."
Even with Clowney out, it was hardly an excuse for giving up 28 points to a Kentucky team that came into the game ranked last in the SEC in scoring offense.
The Gamecocks set Kentucky up with on one touchdown following a fumbled kickoff by the Gamecocks, but otherwise, the Wildcats methodically drove the ball, scoring on two drives of 75 yards and one of 81 yards.
Kentucky ran 60 plays for 301 yards in total offense and clocked off 19 first downs.
It was the offense that saved the Gamecocks.
South Carolina scored on seven of nine possessions, and the ninth and final came when the Gamecocks chewed up the final 4:02 of the clock, with quarterback Connor Shaw taking a knee on the final three plays.
"We're still winning, so that makes it not as tough," said Spurrier, whose team survived a 28-25 nailbiter last week at Central Florida. "We don't like it, but if that's who we are, that's the kind of team we're going to be all year it looks like. We're going to try and change it though. I'm not going to be negative. I told myself I'm going to quit being negative. I've just been giving facts out. Our guys are trying, but some of them are not trying the right way. They're doing their own crap, and I'm not going to mention any names, ya'll watched it. I think we will make some changes."
The Gamecocks enter a stretch where they're on the road for three consecutive games at Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.
South Carolina will have to improve dramatically on defense to have a chance to keep on winning on the road.
It's uncertain whether South Carolina will have to survive that stretch without Clowney.
Clowney's replacement—Darius English, a redshirt freshman making his first career start—was in on three tackles and recorded half a sack.
He played decently, but he couldn't possibly have the same impact as Clowney.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward tried to downplay the absence of Clowney.
"I don't think his absence had any effect really," Ward said. "When the guys found out he couldn't play, they knew someone would step up. We would love to have Jadeveon out there, but we have to put 11 guys out there whether he is with us or not."
Either way, change is blowing in the wind at South Carolina.
"We're not going to live with the way we're playing, that's for sure," Ward said. "It gets frustrating."
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes obtained firsthand.