Until 2009, the Kentucky series was moving along quite nicely for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 SEC) beat the Wildcats every year from 2000 to 2009, and looked ready to make it 11 in a row headed to Lexington in 2010. South Carolina was coming off a victory over then-No. 1 Alabama, ranked No. 10 in the country and would go on to win the SEC East. Kentucky was unranked and on the way to a 2-6 SEC record.
Despite all that, the Wildcats won 31-28, and the series hasn’t been the same since. South Carolina and Kentucky have split the past six matchups, and the games have been particularly treacherous for the Gamecocks in Lexington, Ky.
That’s where they head Saturday to take on the Wildcats (1-2, 0-1 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. in Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky has won two of the past three meetings on its home field, the 2010 game, and in 2014 when South Carolina blew a 14-point lead in a 45-38 loss.
“It’s the atmosphere,” Gamecocks senior Chris Moody answered when asked why it was such a tough place for his team to play. “It’s just so weird when you get off the bus and get into the stadium. It’s a weird place to play. I can’t tell you why. It’s just a weird place to go line up and play. It’s quiet. The last time we played, it was kind of foggy.”
Senior Darius English also remembered the weather from South Carolina’s last trip to Lexington.
“It was really cold and we weren’t really into it,” English said. “We expected to beat them and we didn’t take them seriously, but this year we are going to make sure we prepare fully and come out ready to go.”
Overlooking the Wildcats would be a temptation again this year. Kentucky lost to Southern Miss to open the season and was beaten 45-7 by Florida. It won its first game last week, despite giving up 42 points to New Mexico State. South Carolina senior Alan Knott figures that will make it tougher on the Gamecocks this week.
“With them having two losses, it’s going to be a tough place for us to play,” Knott said. “Their fans are always wild when we get there because I feel like we have a little bit of a rivalry there. We play each other really hard every year. It’s a tough fought battle.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who was 4-0 against Kentucky at Florida, doesn’t believe the location of the game, or its history, will have any impact on the outcome.
“I think it’s what you make of it,” Muschamp said. “Go play well. Go coach well.”
Overall, the Gamecocks have lost two in a row in this series. Two years ago, it was running back Jojo Kemp running out of the Wildcat formation 17 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns.
“That was frustrating,” South Carolina safety D.J. Smith remembered. “That’s not going to happen again I don’t think. Hopefully, it won’t.”
Last season, it was running back Boom Williams who burned the Gamecocks, gaining 107 yards on 14 carries. Both Kemp and Williams remain on Kentucky’s roster, although Kemp might not play because of an injury.
“I actually knew Boom, me and him played on the same all-star team in Florida,” Smith said. “I’m friends with him and I know he’s a good player. We just have to be ready to play. We don’t want to lose three in a row to Kentucky, nah. I think we’re going to be ready to play.”
Who: South Carolina (2-1) vs. Kentucky (1-2)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Commonwealth Stadium; Lexington, Ky.
TV: SEC Network. Radio: 107.5 FM
Line: Kentucky by 2 1/2