Kentucky had never beaten South Carolina three consecutive times in football … until Saturday.
The Wildcats outlasted the Gamecocks 17-10 in an unlikely defensive struggle in Commonwealth Stadium. South Carolina, which was playing its third conference game in a row on the road, fell to 2-2 overall and 1-2 in the SEC. The Gamecocks will host No. 10 Texas A&M on Saturday as they begin a slate of five straight home games.
“We lacked execution starting the game offensively, really struggled, didn’t really get anything going, especially in the throwing game,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Defensively we have really struggled to play blocks up front and hold the point against people That’s something that has been a reoccurring theme. These are things we will continue to work through. The kids battled hard and fought. Disappointed with the lack of execution offensively and then defensively just not playing blocks. We will continue to work, continue to improve. We have a young group.”
The Wildcats improved to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops moved to 5-21 in the SEC in his four years at the school. Three of those wins have come against the Gamecocks.
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The Wildcats entered the game with one of the best offenses and worst defenses of the young season, but South Carolina’s defense held backup Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson mostly in check while the Gamecocks offense couldn’t muster any consistent forward progress.
Kentucky scored the go-ahead points on a 1-yard touchdown run by Benny Snell with 10:21 left in the game. South Carolina’s last chance ended when freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain was sacked on fourth-and-17 with 2:23 left in the game.
“We are going to come to work tomorrow and we’re going to prepare harder,” offensive lineman Mason Zandi said. “We’re going to practice harder. We are going to do everything so much harder than we did. That’s the only way I can explain it. We don’t have time to hang our heads.”
South Carolina was outgained 351-268 yards in total offense. The Gamecocks tied the game at 10-10 with 19 seconds left in the third quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Elliott Fry that capped a seven-play, 36-yard drive. But South Carolina didn’t score again.
The Gamecocks might have gone up 17-10 in the third quarter on a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown by Rashad Fenton, but the play was called back by a block in the back penalty against South Carolina freshman T.J. Brunson. “It was a clip,” Muschamp said.
Star of the game: South Carolina senior defensive end Darius English had the best game of his career. English recorded a career-high three sacks and finished with seven tackles. It was the most sacks in a game by a South Carolina player since Jadeveon Clowney had 4.5 against Clemson in 2012. English came into the game with seven career sacks in 41 games. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by the Wildcats.
Play of the game: With 1:40 left in the game, Kentucky faced a fourth-and-1 from its 37-yard line. Stoops elected to go for it, and Stephen Johnson gained 1-yard on a quarterback sneak to allow the Wildcats to run out the clock. Kentucky didn’t pass the ball in the fourth quarter. It’s last 22 offensive plays were runs which gained 91 yards.
Stat of the game: Each of Kentucky’s previous three opponents this season – Southern Miss, Florida and New Mexico State – gained at least 500 yards of total offense. The Gamecocks finished with 268.
Deebo out again: Sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel missed his second game in a row Saturday because of a hamstring injury. Samuel made the trip to Lexington, but didn’t dress out for the game. Muschamp said Tuesday he expected Samuel would play. Samuel was expected to be the Gamecocks top wide receiver this year, but has four catches for 66 yards. Freshman wide receiver Randrecous Davis, who has three catches for 45 yards, didn’t make the trip to Lexington after suffering a hamstring injury in practice this week.
Third down woes: The Gamecocks were 3-for-13 on third downs. They completed only two third down passes.
Turnover takeaways: South Carolina won the turnover battle for the second week in a row, getting two turnovers from Kentucky while giving away none.
Who: South Carolina vs.
No. 10 Texas A&M
When: Oct. 1 (4 p.m.)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM