South Carolina talked a good game Saturday night.
It played a horrible one.
The Gamecocks seemed more than willing to trash talk with Kentucky’s players but less willing to compete with them in a 24-10 loss to the No. 17 Wildcats. Kentucky has now beaten South Carolina five straight times.
“I give our players credit, they continued to fight and play hard in the game. The effort wasn’t the question. We have to play smarter,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “We are going to watch the film and be extremely disappointed. I am not taking anything away from Kentucky, but we hurt ourselves.”
The Gamecocks had 11 penalties for 94 yards, two of them for unsportsmanlike conducts. South Carolina and Kentucky players yapped at each other throughout the game. The Wildcats backed it up better.
“We need to play between the whistles, that’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said. “That’s what tough competitors do. They don’t run their mouth.”
“We need to do more talking with our helmets and shoulder pads and stop the extra,” Gamecocks tight end Kiel Pollard said. “As a team we were not smart, and we have to go back to work.”
Kentucky (5-0 overall, 3-0 SEC) led 24-3 at halftime and forced a season-high four turnovers from South Carolina (2-2, 1-2). Wildcats star running back Benny Snell had 99 yards and helped the Wildcats hold the ball for 34:44, almost 10 minutes more than the Gamecocks.
“We talk about being a violent and composed football team and we have to do a better job of that,” said quarterback Jake Bentley. “A lot of teams are going to come out there and run their mouths, but we have to be smarter than that.”
South Carolina senior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams also suggested the Wildcats instigated the verbal battling.
“We are not going to get into it. It’s football,” Allen-Williams said. “You have to play the game how it goes. We didn’t play our game today and it was what it was.”
Bentley, who threw three interceptions, left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury he suffered on a slide but said after the game he doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
Until Saturday, South Carolina’s 56-7 loss to Clemson in 2016 was unchallenged as the worst game of the Muschamp era. It looked like it was going to have some competition after 30 minutes at Kroger Field.
“We’ve got guys jumping out of gaps (on defense), trying to make plays. It’s not a lack of effort, not a lack of want-to, just not very smart,” Muschamp said. “There was absolutely nothing different as far as what we did defensively in the second half. We have to continue to go back and coach them better, and that’s on me.”
South Carolina played so poorly in the first half that Kentucky was able to survive a second half in which it gained 75 yards and scored no points. Junior running back Rico Dowdle fumbled inside South Carolina’s 10-yard line. Normally sure-handed wide receiver Bryan Edwards dropped two passes. And the defense piled up missed tackles.
“How many drops did have tonight? Six? Seven? Big plays, too,” Muschamp said. “Can’t catch it for them. They have to catch the ball. That’s what they’re on scholarship for. Catch the ball.”
Dowdle led South Carolina in rushing with 44 yards on 13 carries. The Gamecocks, who ran for 128 yards as a team, have been outrushed by the Wildcats in every game of this current losing streak.
“We’ll get back to work, and we’ll fix it,” Pollard said.