It’s probably true of a lot of SEC football players, but, still, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw would love to play Kentucky every week.
Shaw carved up the Wildcats for the third time in his career in Saturday night’s 35-28 win at Williams-Brice Stadium, throwing for 262 yards, rushing for 50 and totaling three touchdowns.
In three starts against the Wildcats, Shaw has averaged 240.3 yards passing and 55.3 yards rushing. He has totaled eight touchdowns, thrown no interceptions and completed more than 75 percent of his passes.
“He’s playing the best football of his career,” Fox analyst and former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch said during the broadcast.
Shaw’s dominance against Kentucky and the Wildcats’ defense overplaying the running game were the two most glaring factors in the game after a review by GoGamecocks.
The Gamecocks scored on every drive Shaw directed except the final series, when Shaw kneeled three times to run out the clock. The only time the Gamecocks punted was after Dylan Thompson entered the game on the fourth series.
“Connor Shaw was on fire. Kentucky had no answers for him. I’m not sure why they bring Dylan Thompson in at that point,” Couch said when Thompson’s drive ended after four plays. “For Kentucky, it worked out.”
Kentucky entered the game determined to stop South Carolina running back Mike Davis. On the fourth play of the game and the Gamecocks facing first-and-10 from their own 38-yard line, the Wildcats had nine players within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage as wide receiver Damiere Byrd raced past cornerback Cody Quinn for a 62-yard touchdown.
“We talked about how Kentucky had to get in the box to stop this run. That’s the type of accuracy I am talking about with Connor Shaw,” Couch said.
Despite the Wildcats’ determination to stop Davis, he had 106 yards on 21 carries to retain the SEC lead in rushing average (122.8 yards per game). On the second drive, Davis scored untouched on a 22-yard run despite Kentucky having nine players within 5 yards of the line and all 11 within 7 yards. The Wildcats ran a run blitz, but their safety and linebacker both blitzed the same — and wrong — gap, leaving a 5-yard wide hole for Davis.
Other observations from The Tape include:
• The Gamecocks ran 51 plays out of the shotgun and eight out of the I-formation (not counting the final three kneel-downs). The game’s first touchdown, the 62-yard touchdown to Byrd, came out of the I, but the other seven snaps out of the formation averaged 2.1 yards per play. USC averaged 7.5 yards per play out of the shotgun.
• The defense’s communication issues began right away. On the first play of the game, linebackers Marcquis Roberts and T.J. Holloman both flowed to the right side of the field, leaving four Gamecock defenders on three Wildcats and opening up the left side for a 14-yard rush by quarterback Jalen Whitlow. After the whistle, safety Brison Williams could be seen shouting and pointing at a teammate for misplaying the call.
• Coach Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward both said during the week they wanted to be more aggressive, and the Gamecocks were. On the third snap, Victor Hampton came on a cornerback blitz, forcing Kentucky tackle Jordan Swindle to block him. That allowed Roberts to come unblocked around the edge and stop JoJo Kemp after 2 yards. Spur Sharrod Golighlty notched half a sack on a blitz.
• The Gamecock defense struggled almost every time with its backup defensive line. Ends Mason Harris and Gerald Dixon and tackles Gerald Dixon Jr. and Phillip Dukes were inserted into the game on the third series. They later were replaced on that drive by the regulars, but the drive still led to the Wildcats’ only score of the first half.
• True freshman tackle Kelsey Griffin saw his most extensive action of the season but did not have a tackle.
After a quiet first four games, junior tackle Kelcy Quarles showed up. Quarles finished with six tackles, a sack and two tackles-for-loss and was more active than he has been all season. On back-to-back plays in the second half, he beat the Kentucky lineman off the ball from the first step and stopped the Wildcats behind the line of scrimmage.
• South Carolina can expect to see a lot more quarterback runs and/or Wildcat formations this season. Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow averaged 4.1 yards per carry despite losing 16 yards to sacks. Kentucky started the second half with three straight quarterback draws and gained 16 yards on them.
• Communication and coverage in the secondary remain a concern. Kentucky’s Ryan Timmons was wide open on a 14-yard touchdown catch after Hampton released Timmons to a deep route. Later in the game, Hampton jammed Javess Blue at the line of scrimmage but then let him go, seemingly expecting safety help, and Blue was wide open for a 33-yard gain.