Let’s call a spade a spade here. The South Carolina Gamecocks and Kentucky Wildcats are two sad-sack SEC teams whose seasons just have not turned out as they hoped. The Gamecocks have won just two of their nine games and have already fired their head coach. The last time out against Georgia, things went south in a hurry for South Carolina, from the opening kickoff that went out of bounds to the final score of 45-16.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (3-6) actually looked very impressive in the first half at Florida last week, holding a 10-7 lead right before halftime. And that was against what was arguably the best offense in the SEC. But the second half saw UK come unraveled, part of which wasn’t helped by 16 players missing the game due to injury or COVID-19 protocols, leading to depth issues.
Neither team will have a winning season or is likely going to a bowl game. We’ll see if one of them is more motivated than the other on Saturday in Lexington.
South Carolina at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -11.5
When South Carolina Has the Ball
Doting on Doty. Freshman QB Luke Doty has been a revelation for the Gamecocks. In the last six quarters since taking over for Collin Hill, Doty has gone 32-of-45 for 320 yards through the air and instilled some confidence in this offense. His targets have suffered attrition with Shi Smith and Xavier Legette missing lately, but tight end Nick Muse has emerged as a great go-to option. Doty just possesses that moxie that you can’t coach into a player.
Re-establish Kevin Harris. Granted, Georgia has a very good rushing defense, but Harris getting just 53 yards on 17 carries pretty much spelled doom for the Gamecocks' chances last week. Kentucky’s defense is pretty good, but not on the same level as the Bulldogs. So look for the South Carolina offensive line to get a better push this week and help establish Harris on early downs to try and keep the Gamecocks ahead of the chains in down-and-distance situations.
Play like you did in the first half vs. Florida. The Kentucky defense was brilliant vs. the Gators… in the first half, that is. They held Heisman Trophy contender Kyle Trask to just 21 plays, 145 yards, and one touchdown (the other was scored on a punt return). The Wildcats have the second-best pass defense in the SEC, holding teams to 232 yards through the air. If the Big Blue can force the Gamecocks into must-pass situations, this will bode well for the home team.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
Run. Run. Run. You saw what Georgia did to the Gamecocks, right? Zamir White and James Cook combined for 7.2 yards per carry and 188 of the 332 rushing yards on the night. Now I know the Wildcats are a little banged up in the running back department, including missing Chris Rodriguez Jr. the last two weeks. But geez, Georgia made it look so easy, often breaking off large chunks of yards on simple runs between the tackles. Look for Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke to get their reps.
Play cleaner. The Wildcats have a legit chance to win this one but they have to make sure to cut down on the mistakes. Though quarterback Terry Wilson was only sacked twice against Florida, he was often hurried into bad decisions and threw a pair of picks. They also hurt their own cause with eight penalties, always at key times.
The Gamecocks' defense has gotta get off the field. Yes, yes, I know, the Garnet and Black defense isn’t exactly the Fire Ant defense of the '80s, especially with the injuries and opt-outs they've suffered of late. But Georgia was a very proficient 8-for-10 on third down, which meant drives were extended and it wore down South Carolina's D very early in last week’s loss. By contrast, Kentucky went just 2-for-13 on third down vs. Florida.
With wide receiver Shi Smith and linebacker Ernest Jones both questionable for this game, South Carolina is missing its best players on each side of the ball for this game. Advantage UK.
Kentucky is first in the SEC East in rushing offense, averaging 176 yards per game and Carolina is fourth with 153. I’ll go out on a limb here and say whichever team does the better job of establishing a consistent ground attack will win this one. My hunch is with the Big Blue.
Prediction: Kentucky 24, South Carolina 13
Podcast: Coaching Carousel and Week 14 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.