South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has surpassed 300 yards passing in a game twice in his career. The Gamecocks lost both those games. One was against Kentucky last season.
The No. 17 Wildcats (4-0, 2-0 SEC) have beaten South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) four straight times, and it’s not because the Gamecocks haven’t been able to throw the ball. In fact, South Carolina has had more passing yards than Kentucky in each of those games and more overall yards in three of the four.
The Wildcats have built there success on the ground, by running wild against the Gamecocks and preventing the Gamecocks from doing the same. South Carolina has averaged 155.5 yards per game on the ground in their four consecutive losses but haven’t managed to break 100 yards in the last two games.
The 2017 game, a 23-13 loss in Williams-Brice Stadium, was the low point. South Carolina rushed for 54 yards on 20 carries.
“Last year, we couldn’t run the ball,” Gamecocks center Donell Stanley said. “We know we have to run the ball this game. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. They have some good guys, some powerful guys and we have to come out there with the mentality of wanting to move them. It all comes down to the offensive line. We have to move people. No excuses.”
That could be an even bigger problem this year than last year. The Wildcats are sixth in the SEC and 21st in the country in rushing defense, allowing 108 yards per game on the ground. Kentucky has two linebackers in the top 10 in the SEC in tackles – Kash Daniel (eight per game) and Darius West (seven per game) – and neither is their best linebacker.
That would be senior Josh Allen, who could be a first round NFL Draft pick next season and who South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp calls “an elite guy.”
“We have to know where he’s at all the time, especially in our run game,” Stanley said. “He’s quick.”
South Carolina is eighth in the SEC in rushing (196.7 yards per game) and coming off a 273-yard output against Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks revamped offensive line is opening up “a lot more space” in the running game this year, junior running back Ty’Son Williams said.
“We just want to continue the success, and do it next week against Kentucky,” Williams said. “That’s the plan for any game. We have to establish the run. We have to win the line of scrimmage.”
Stanley believes that will come down to the Gamecocks’ “mentality,” but it may be more complicated than that.
“(Kentucky) is a very stout group inside in how they play and they’ve got really good edges, Allen being one of those edges,” Muschamp said. “I’ve said through training camp that I’ve been very pleased with the progress of our offensive line. There is a lot of football to be played, but the progress we have made I have been extremely pleased with.”
It will be put to the test this week.