Kentucky and South Carolina both have had issues during the first three weeks of the college football season.
On Saturday night, the Wildcats and the Gamecocks will look to overcome their deficiencies in a key SEC East matchup in Columbia.
Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has yet to drop a game this season, but the Wildcats have had some close encounters the previous two weeks. After a seven-point victory against Missouri, Kentucky barely defeated FCS member Chattanooga 28-23 at home in Week 3.
South Carolina (2-1, 0-1) won on a last-second field goal against East Carolina in Week 2. The Gamecocks followed that up with a 40-13 blowout loss to Georgia last Saturday night.
Saturday will be the 33rd time the Wildcats and Gamecocks have met on the gridiron. South Carolina holds an 18-13-1 advantage in the series, but Kentucky has won six of the past seven meetings.
Kentucky at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Kentucky -5
When Kentucky Has the Ball
During the early going, Kentucky has displayed a high-octane offense as the Wildcats rank among the best in the country in a few statistical categories.
Through three games, Kentucky is averaging 36 points per game and ranks fourth in the SEC in yards per play (7.3). The Wildcats also lead the SEC and are third in the nation in yards per pass attempt (11.7) and have connected on 15 passes of at least 20 yards, which ranks second in the conference.
Penn State transfer quarterback Will Levis has already thrown for 800 yards and seven touchdowns. Consider that last season, Terry Wilson (now at New Mexico) finished with 1,187 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games. Levis has thrown four interceptions but is still 19th nationally in quarterback rating (168.7).
The Wildcats will face a South Carolina defense that has benefited from takeaways this season. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with six interceptions. Half of those belong to safety Jaylan Foster, who is tied for the national lead with three picks.
Needless to say, Levis will need to be cautious with the football on Saturday night.
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Sophomore quarterback Luke Doty will get his first start of the season on Saturday. Doty injured his foot in practice in August and missed the first two games. However, he came into the game early in the loss at No. 2 Georgia when starter Zeb Noland got hurt.
Against Georgia, Doty threw for 153 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in relief. Doty started the last two games of the 2020 season and would have opened this campaign as No. 1 if he hadn't gotten hurt. Now back atop the depth chart, Doty will fave a Kentucky defense that has been among the best in the country in the early going.
The Wildcats are giving up 274.7 yards per game, which ranks 20th in FBS. However, that average has gone up considerably in the last two weeks with Missouri and Chattanooga totaling 737 yards.
If the Gamecocks are to win on Saturday night, it will probably be due to success on the ground. In their two wins (over FCS Eastern Illinois East Carolina), they have averaged 203 rushing yards. Last week against Georgia, they were basically grounded, gaining 96 yards on 34 carries (2.8 ypc). With Doty still finding his rhythm, South Carolina is going to have to run the ball effectively or it could a long night for the offense.
With a victory on Saturday, Kentucky can end September undefeated. But the Wildcats will need to navigate their first road test of the year in a challenging environment.
South Carolina is rebuilding under head coach Shane Beamer and it shows. The Gamecocks currently rank 13th in the SEC in total, scoring, and passing offense. Pass protection and ball security have been issues, so if South Carolina can't run the ball on Saturday night, it might be difficult to put up many points.
The last couple of weeks, Kentucky has been involved in close contests, so don't expect this one to be a blowout either. But the difference will be Levis and the Wildcats' big-play ability via its rejuvenated passing attack.
Prediction: Kentucky 31, South Carolina 27
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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.