Josh Kendall

Why this is a critical game for South Carolina and how the Gamecocks will fare

South Carolina will be playing its 30th game under head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday.

It has won 17 of the first 29. This one is the most important of them all. That may seem like hyperbole, but college football is a hyperbolic sport. What happened last week trumps what happened last year, etc., etc., and the next hill the Gamecocks must climb under Muschamp is against the Wildcats.

Kentucky has beaten South Carolina four times in a row, but that’s only part of the reason this is such a benchmark game. The bigger reason has to do with the progress or perceived progress of Muschamp’s program. The Gamecocks improved by three wins in his first season and another three in his second season.

There was no reasonable expectation that South Carolina would improve by another three wins this year. Instead of that indicator, it seemed that a better way to judge the Gamecocks this season was if they were able to hold onto the ground they had already covered.

That means winning eight or nine games and establishing themselves as the second best team in the SEC East, which is the position they finished in last season. Now, almost halfway through the 2018 season believe it or not, Kentucky looks like the second-best team in the division.

The Wildcats are undefeated, ranked 17th in the nation, have the conference’s leading rusher and a defense that is ranked seventh nationally in points allowed (13.3 ppg).

“When they come out on the field, that’s what you’re supposed to look like,” Muschamp said. “They’ve got great length. They’ve got girth on both sides of the ball. They’ve got athleticism when you watch them move around. They’ve got playmakers. You see Terry Wilson, you see Lynn Bowden, you see Benny Snell and some of his backups, C.J. Conrad is an outstanding tight end, on defense, Josh Allen is going to be an elite guy as far as a pass rusher, the girth they have on defense, the experience and talent on the back end. It’s a good team.”

South Carolina has not proven yet this season that it is a good team. The Gamecocks will have that chance Saturday. If they are going to answer the way they hope to, it will take a dominant performance from an offensive line that just might be capable of that.

South Carolina 21, Kentucky 20

Subscribe today: Only $30 for 1 year

Our all-new Sports Pass is only $30 for one year and gets you unlimited access to all of our GoGamecocks stories and video, as well as all of The State's Sports coverage. Subscribe now!