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UK blowing its margin for errors

Turnovers played a key part in Coach Rich Brooks turning the Kentucky program in the right direction.

After UK finished on the minus side in turnover margin in Brooks' first three seasons, the Cats rode a plus-15 margin to their first bowl appearance in seven seasons in 2006.

But just as quickly as winning the turnover battle can bring positive results, losing it often leads to underachievement.

The Cats started 5-0 and cracked the nation's top 10 in 2007 thanks to a plus-5 turnover margin. But UK lost three of its next four games largely because of a minus-4 margin and finished a somewhat disappointing 8-5.

The 2009 Wildcats have had extremely slippery fingers, which has Brooks concerned heading into Saturday's game at No. 25 South Carolina.

Kentucky committed turnovers on three straight possessions against Louisville, was snowed under by early penalties and blown assignments against Florida, and coughed it up four times last week against Alabama.

UK and South Carolina have been evenly matched for the most of the past decade, but the Gamecocks have won nine in a row over the Cats, often because of UK goof-ups.

In 2004, the Gamecocks got a touchdown pass with 1:28 left to win 12-7 after Vincent Burns and Mike Williams each dropped potential game-sealing interceptions.

In 2007's Thursday night ESPN showdown that saw the Wildcats come in ranked eighth and South Carolina 11th, UK had a 384-342 advantage in total yards but gave away two fumble-return touchdowns and had four turnovers that helped the Gamecocks win 38-23.

Kentucky turned over South Carolina four times in last year's matchup, including a 28-yard interception return TD by Trevard Lindley. But even that could not negate the Cats' miscues, which included Captain Munnerlyn's 81-yard return of a blocked field goal and an 84-yard kickoff return to set up another score in South Carolina's 24-17 win.

"South Carolina has had their way with us, and they've had struggles with other teams we've beaten," Brooks said. "It's not something I can put my exact finger on, but obviously the one thing I do know is that you cannot make mistakes. Last year we made a crucial mistake in allowing that field goal to be blocked. It was like the parting of the Red Sea. It was a 10-point swing in the game, and it ended up being a seven-point game. Those are things you can't do if you want to win a lot of SEC games."

South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier is unbeaten in 16 games against UK, but usually had an easy time of it with the Cats while he was coaching at Florida.

"There have been several close games, but this game will stand on its own merit," Spurrier said. "The past games have no bearing on the one coming up this week. We've been fortunate to make plays at the right time. That's how you win games when the teams are evenly matched. At South Carolina we've been evenly matched. At Florida we had the better personnel."

The Wildcats are minus-4 in turnover margin after four games this season, which would be its worst margin since the 2005 team had a minus-9 ratio. That team finished 3-8. UK has forced just five turnovers thus far.

"That's one of the things I'm a little disappointed about defensively is I think we're doing some good things, but we're not getting the takeaways we've gotten in recent years," Brooks said. "I am concerned about mistakes, because our margin for error isn't as great as the top-echelon teams in our league. We can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes. We have to play smarter football. We can't have stupid personal-foul penalties. Occasionally you're going to have one that's an aggression foul, but the stupid ones, the late hits, they have to be cleaned up."

Creating more turnovers won't be easy for Kentucky without Lindley, who'll miss the game with a sprained ankle. And Eric Norwood, the guy who ran back the two fumbles for touchdowns in 2007, is still in the lineup for South Carolina.

Senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said it's time for the Cats to man up and stop making the same silly blunders over and over.

"It just seems after every loss it's the same speech," Peters said. "It's the mistakes that we made that either caused us to lose the game or caused us not to be in the game. Personally I'm just tired of it. Where do we stop? I think everybody has to take a good look at themselves and make sure they're responsible for their mistakes and stuff like that. If we do that, we'll be fine. Due to the last couple of weeks, I think that everybody will be focused on it in practice and trying to improve, and I think we'll come out better against South Carolina."

Lindley out

Kentucky senior cornerback Trevard Lindley will miss Saturday's game at South Carolina with a sprained ankle, ending a streak of 43 consecutive starts.

Lindley suffered the injury in the third quarter of last Saturday's 38-20 loss to No. 3 Alabama.

True freshman Martavious Neloms will make his first career start in Lindley's absence.

UK's other starting cornerback, junior Paul Warford, is day-to-day with a quadriceps injury. Warford missed the Alabama game and didn't finish Tuesday's practice. Sophomore Taeido Smith and redshirt freshman Cartier Rice would be candidates to start if Warford can't go.

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