There have been shutouts and blowouts, nail-biters and laughers. They have played under the September sun and autumn moons.
And each time the result has been the same: a win for Steve Spurrier’s team and a loss for Kentucky.
As South Carolina prepares to travel to Lexington this weekend, Spurrier will try to keep his perfect record against the Wildcats intact.
The Gamecocks’ coach is 15-0 against Kentucky, Spurrier’s best record against any opponent. Spurrier was 12-0 against the Wildcats at Florida, and has added three more wins since coming to Columbia.
Spurrier has fared better in the Bluegrass State than some of its bourbon makers. He said the secret to his success is simple.
“We’ve had success against Kentucky because we’ve generally had a lot better team than they did,” he said.
Spurrier’s Florida teams posted several lopsided wins (73-7, 42-7, 65-0) against Kentucky when the Wildcats were coached by Bill Curry, who did not retain Spurrier as Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks coach when Curry followed Pepper Rodgers at Tech in 1980.
Spurrier ended up getting hired as an assistant at Duke, which he said was the best thing for his career. But judging by Florida’s margins of victory against the Curry-coached Wildcats, it appears Spurrier did not forget Curry telling him he wanted to interview a couple of other candidates in addition to Spurrier at Tech.
“That’s when they had some bad teams,” Spurrier said Monday. “They don’t look like those teams anymore.”
Spurrier believes Kentucky has improved under Rich Brooks, who guided the Wildcats to back-to-back, eight-win seasons and consecutive Music City Bowl victories the past two seasons.
Kentucky, which dropped to 4-1 after falling to No. 2 Alabama 17-14 last week, has given up fewer points (an average of 7.8 per game) than any Football Bowl Subdivision school and is ranked among the top three teams nationally in pass defense (144.4 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense.
USC is No. 2 in pass defense (128 yards per game), one spot ahead of the ’Cats. Spurrier said Kentucky features more speed than its teams from the 1990s.
“Their guys are athletic, faster,” Spurrier said. “They’ve got an SEC-looking defense now, I guess that’s the way to say it.”
Brooks was equally complimentary of the Gamecocks’ defense, which is sixth nationally and second behind Tennessee in the SEC in total defense with 244.7 yards allowed. Brooks, the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator in 1998 when they went to their only Super Bowl, said USC’s versatility is difficult to prepare for.
“They just give you a hodge-podge of different defensive looks, fronts, stunts, pressures and blitz,” Brooks said during his Monday news conference. “It will be a real challenge for our offense to make sure we are correct assignment-wise, let alone win some physical battles as we go through this game.”
USC beat Kentucky 38-23 last year in Columbia when Eric Norwood tied an NCAA record by returning two fumbles for touchdowns. Kentucky players want to eliminate the mistakes that led to four turnovers in last year’s game, but they don’t place much stock in Spurrier’s lifetime of achievement against the ’Cats.
“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” defensive end Jeremy Jarmon said. “The one thing I do care about is that we beat this team this weekend despite who the coach is.”
“Those were previous years. This is a different year,” added tailback Derrick Locke. “I’m not saying we’re going to beat them, but you can’t go off the past. They still have to show up to play. ... Hopefully we can change that.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.