Kentucky Football: Wildcats Limping Into Battle Against South Carolina

Dan BodnerCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 11:  Jason Barnes #4 of the South Carolina Gamecocks is tackled by Robbie McAtee #36 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the game at Commonwealth Stadium on October 11, 2008 in Lexington, Kentucky. South Carolina defeated Kentucky 24-17.   (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Wildcats face a tough challenge this week as they attempt to put an end to a three-game losing streak against the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers.

Kentucky is currently in the midst of the roughest part of its schedule, a four-game stretch that includes the eighth, ninth, and 10th-ranked teams in the nation.

So far, the Wildcats have come up empty-handed, losing all three of their SEC games, including what was supposed to be an easy win against Ole Miss.

Yet, Kentucky did show some signs of life last week when it came just a field goal shy of upsetting Auburn. Led by Randall Cobb's four touchdowns and 207 multi-purpose yards, the Wildcats managed to put up 34 points on a stingy Auburn defense.

For his efforts, Cobb was awarded National Wide Receiver/Running Back of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards. Mike Hartline also performed well, completing 23 of 28 passes and committing no turnovers.

However, Kentucky's success on offense may be tempered a bit against South Carolina as running back Derrick Locke is questionable for Saturday's game. Locke suffered a stinger in his shoulder early on against Auburn and head coach Joker Phillips is currently leaning towards holding him out.

If Locke does indeed miss Saturday's game, sophomore Donald Russell will be forced to assume the role as Kentucky's primary ball carrier. The 5'11" running back from Florida has a ton of speed, but the drop off to him from Derrick Locke is immense. For instance, Locke averaged 6.2 yards per carry against Auburn before having to leave due to injury, while Russell managed only 3.6 yards per carry in his relief.

Add in the fact that South Carolina is currently ranked 23rd in the nation in rushing defense, and it is unlikely that the Wildcats will be able to get anything started on the ground.

Joker Phillips has stated that the team will use the WildCobb formation more often if Derrick Locke is forced to miss Saturday's game. And while this will likely be welcomed news for Kentucky fans, the Wildcats would be best-suited by airing the ball out.

South Carolina is ranked 103rd in the nation in passing defense, giving up an average of 255 yards a game with a horrendous 68.7 completion percentage. If the offensive line can give him enough time, Hartline should have no problems dissecting a porous defense.

Having Randall Cobb behind center would be more exciting, but it would also be playing to the strength of South Carolina's defense: Stopping the run. If Kentucky hopes to compete on Saturday, it will have to get the ball in Cobb's hands through the air.

The good news for Kentucky is that South Carolina has struggled thus far in running the ball, with freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore averaging only 4.3 yards a carry. Unfortunately, Kentucky may also be missing one of its leaders on defense in defensive end DeQuin Evans, who is doubtful because of an ankle injury.

If Kentucky can capitalize on South Carolina's weaknesses on defense, it should be able to turn Saturday's game into a shoot-out. Unfortunately, the defense will have to prove that it is capable of making key stops before the Wildcats can begin thinking upset.

Prediction: 38-27 South Carolina