South Carolina-Kentucky Football Should Make for a Defensive Battle
Before we get ahead of ourselves and claim that the Gamecocks are all of a sudden a potent, lethal SEC offense because they posted 31 points and 405 yards (including 327 in the air) in a win at Ole Miss, let’s not forget that the Rebels are 11th in scoring defense, 11th in total defense, and 12th in pass defense.
So while Chris Smelley had a great game, it was against a terrible defense.
That said, there is room for optimism because of the receiver play from the Gamecocks. Nine different receivers caught a ball, Kenny McKinley returned from injury, and Jared Cook rumbled 64 yards with a catch—providing a rare, home-run play from the Gamecocks.
Kentucky’s strength, as the nation saw last weekend, is clearly its defense, much like South Carolina. The two teams are ranked first and second in the conference in pass defense and are almost identical in rush defense, as well.
Translation: This should be a big-hitting, defensive battle.
The difference in the game might just be on the offensive lines.
Last week, a healthy South Carolina O-line gave Smelley the time he needed to pick apart the Ole Miss secondary. While they did give up three sacks to an aggressive Ole Miss front seven that is second in sacks in the SEC, none of those mistakes was particularly damaging.
Then again, Kentucky brings the heat, with Jeremy Jarmon leading the way. Last week against Alabama, John Parker Wilson was extremely limited by the Wildcats’ pressure and strong defensive back play by Trevard Lindley and Co. Wilson ended the day 7-of-17 passing for 106 yards and an interception.
Since Carolina does not have the running game Alabama does, they must find a way to protect Smelly, who has shown a penchant for throwing errant passes when pressured.
If the 'Cats do get continued pressure on the flat-footed Smelley, it will be interesting to see if Spurrier tabs Stephen Garcia to run a few series at quarterback. Garcia has the ability to scramble, and game tape of him is limited, so Kentucky would likely need to adjust on the fly.
Meanwhile, injuries to Kentucky’s O-line might force the 'Cats to reach deep into the playbook. Hartline has been steady this season but has yet to face an overall defense as strong as South Carolina’s.
In a lot of ways, these teams are mirror images of one another. Both rely heavily on their defenses, and both have struggled to get a ground game going, leaving it up to the receivers to pick up the slack.
Kentucky will be ready to rebound from a tough loss at Alabama, but, in the end, I see South Carolina’s defense and special teams creating points and big plays to give the Gamecocks the edge.
Game prediction: South Carolina, 20-17.
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