Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: WatchESPN
Last Time We Met...: Kentucky won a slugfest in Lexington by the score of 17-10. Benny Snell scored on a one-yard run to put the ‘Cats up in the 4th quarter. They would not relinquish that lead.
Series History: South Carolina leads the all-time series 17-10-1. They are, however, on a three-game losing streak. That three-game win streak, by trade, is the longest for UK in the series’ history.
Spread: South Carolina opened as 5-point faves. The line increased to 7 at Bovada. In other locales, it’s around 5.5/6.
O/U: The total opened at 52. It’s now hovering around 49.5/50.
The South Carolina Gamecocks haven’t waited around to get started in 2017. The Gamecocks have opened up the year with a 2-0 start to the season. The opponents have been anything but pedestrian, too. They took down the N.C. State Wolfpack in Charlotte in Week 1. They followed that up with a road win in CoMO against the Missouri Tigers. As they head to Williams-Brice Stadium for their home opener, they look for their first 3-0 start since 2012.
To do it, they’ll have to take out the similarly unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats. After defeating Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, they broke away from a slow start to beat Eastern Kentucky in Week 2. The Wildcats are on the road for the second time in three weeks, a challenging start to be sure. If they were to pull off the road upset, UK would improve to 3-0. It would mark the first time that the ‘Cats began 3-0 since Year 1 of the Joker Phillips Era in 2010.
An opportunity for a run game breakthrough
Kentucky hasn’t been all that on the ground so far this year. Benny Snell Jr. and the gang have racked up just 327 yards in their first two games. The 163.5 yards per game average is certainly gaudy, but 170 of the 327 yards have been racked up by Snell.
Looking deeper, UK on the whole hasn’t found much success. Their Rushing Success Rate is at just 35.7 percent this year. That mark ranks 99th in the nation out of 128 FBS teams. Granted, Southern Miss’ run defense hasn’t proven to be much of a joke this season. But you would hope that the promise shown vs. EKU wasn’t just because of the fact that they played a cupcake.
The good news for UK is that South Carolina’s defense hasn’t shown that they can stop the run well in the first two games of the year. The Gamecocks run defense ranks 93rd in Rushing Success Rate, with a mark of 43.3 percent. That’s exactly two percent “higher” than the national average through the first two weeks of the season. Their peripherals aren’t showing much promise either; Rushing IsoPPP ranks 51st, Opportunity Rate 95th, Power Success Rate 84th and Stuff Rate 92nd.
It’s been nothing if not a glaring weakness so far for the SC defense. To win the game, Kentucky may have to do their damnedest to expose it.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
South Carolina’s defense, specifically their D-Line, has done a fine job creating pressure this year. Overall, their Havoc Rate of 15.5 percent might not haunt you. But the DL Havoc Rate of 8.3 percent, ranking 22nd in the nation, might just. Sophomore D.J. Wonnum in particular has been outstanding. He’s picked up four TFL this season and two sacks, both of which are team highs. Senior DL Dante Sawyer meanwhile has 1.5 TFL and one sack of his own. sophomore Keir Thomas has one sack too and two TFL.
Kentucky’s offensive line hasn’t exactly been great at preventing. Their Standard Down Sack Rate is 3.7 percent, ranking 61st in the nation. It hovers just shy of the FBS average of 4.6 percent. On Passing Downs however (2nd and 8+, 3rd and 5+, 4th and 5+) it looks quite a bit worse. The mark of 14.3 percent is one of the worst in all of college football. It ranks 107th in the country out of 128. Stephen Johnson may be in for some peril unless they’re able to elude the pressure. So far, UK hasn’t shown signs of being able to do that.
Deebo, Deebo, Deebo
I don’t need to rattle off to you any stats or metrics about Deebo Samuel. You know how awesome he’s been so far this season. Whether it’s catching passes, running with the football, returning kickoffs, it hasn’t mattered. When the ball gets in Samuel’s hands, he makes things happen.
Advice to Kentucky, if you want to win: Kick away from him, and do your damnedest to get the ball out of his hands.
Advice to South Carolina, if you want to win: Feed. Deebo.
South Carolina 28, Kentucky 20