South Carolina 38, Kentucky 17: The Gamecocks Escape a Determined, Would-Be Upset

John Sommers II - Getty Images

The Wildcats gave South Carolina a run for their money early, raising questions about how much of a factor the Gamecocks will be in the SEC East race

The last time South Carolina was No. 6, back in 2007, they played at home against the underdog Vanderbilt Commodores. The Gamecocks fell behind 17-0 early, worked things back to 17-6 in the second quarter, but never got any closer in the beginning of a five-game slide that would knock South Carolina clear out of the postseason.

And it felt a little like that in South Carolina's game at Kentucky on Saturday night. Sure, the Gamecocks briefly held a 7-3 lead in the second quarter, but Kentucky's lead at halftime was still eerily similar to Vanderbilt's margin five years ago: 17-7. Could South Carolina come back and keep themselves in the race for the SEC East?

After halftime, the Gamecocks hit the gas. They went back to handing the ball to Marcus Lattimore, they stopped making costly mistakes and they reeled of 31 uninterrupted points to rout the Wildcats and make sure Joker Phillips remained firmly on the hot seat. It wasn't always pretty, and there were plenty of reasons to think that South Carolina players were more focused on Georgia than on Kentucky, but the Gamecocks did what they had to do once the game got away from them early: Survive.

Connor Shaw actually had another one of his usual efficient performances: 15-of-18 for 148 yards and two touchdowns, adding 76 yards on 19 rushing attempts. Lattimore continued to look more and more like the battering ram he had been before his injury, churning out 120 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. After looking shaky early in the game, the Gamecocks' infamous front seven subjected young quarterback Jalen Whitlow to massive pressure -- sacking him four times in the second half.

Still, this was not the game any team wants going into a three-week stretch that will decide the season. South Carolina is still a factor in the division race -- and might be a Top 5 team by the time Sunday is over -- but they enter one of the biggest weeks in the SEC so far with more question marks than they expected to have.

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