Cats travel to South Carolina to close out September

Published 1:32 pm Friday, September 27, 2019

Kentucky will board a plane for the second week in a row, this time traveling to South Carolina for a critical showdown with the Gamecocks under the lights in Columbia. The game is set for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff and will air on the SEC Network.

Both teams are looking to break into the win column in Southeastern Conference play and end two-game losing streaks. The Cats suffered a gut-wrenching loss to No. 9 Florida two weeks ago before digging a first half hole they could not overcome in a 28-13 loss at Mississippi State last Saturday. The Gamecocks dropped games to Alabama and on the road at Missouri the past two weeks.

In a strange twist, the two rivals each will be starting their backup quarterback after losing incumbent starters to long-term injuries in the first two weeks of the season. UK’s Sawyer Smith and Carolina’s Ryan Hilinski have acquitted themselves well thus far under less-than-ideal circumstances.

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The Cats have won five straight in the series as they have climbed the SEC East ladder and will look to make it six straight in a game that is hugely important to both teams.

For almost seven years now, Mark Stoops, his coaches and players have tirelessly reshaped the culture of Kentucky football. Over the last few seasons, that culture has yielded an identity of physicality and discipline. On-field results – three consecutive bowl berth and a 10-win season in 2018 – were the natural outgrowth of both.

Now, the Wildcats have lost two straight games. The most recent came on the road at Mississippi State in a performance that saw UK start slowly, make too many mistakes to count and throw 42 times against just 28 rushes.

With the blip in results and diversion from its identity, Kentucky is relying on its culture to get back on track.

“We don’t necessarily panic in our building,” Stoops said. “We like to get back to work and get better.”

That’s exactly what UK (2-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) has done this week leading up to a trip to face South Carolina (1-3, 0-2 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. It began with a painful though necessary breakdown of what went wrong in Starkville, Mississippi. There was certainly plenty of material.

In addition to that run-pass imbalance, Sawyer Smith threw a pick-six on UK’s first possession. Later his receivers dropped passes, three of which would have gone for touchdowns. There were a pair of missed field goals and on defense UK allowed Garrett Shrader and Kylin Hill to run for a combined 245 yards…Read More

Scouting South Carolina

• South Carolina is 1-3 on the season, including an 0-2 start in league play with losses to Alabama and at Missouri.

• The Gamecocks have yet to defeat an FBS team, with its victory coming against Charleston Southern.

• Will Muschamp is in his fifth season with the Gamecocks and owns a 23-20 record during his tenure in Coumbia. Combined with his time at Florida he is 51-41 in eight seasons overall.

• South Carolina ranks in the middle of the pack in the SEC in most statistical categories but is last in the league in time of possession at just 25:26 per game.

• Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski replaced injured veteran Jake Bentley after the season opener and has thrown for 257.3 yards per game, good for fourth in the SEC. He has five touchdown passes and three interceptions.

• Senior receiver Bryan Edwards is averaging 77.8 receiving yards per game and has 21 catches on the season.

• Sophomore linebacker Ernest Jones ranks fourth in the conference in tackles per game with 7.8, tied with Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square.

• Senior defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw leads the SEC with 4.0 sacks this season.

Series vs. South Carolina

• South Carolina leads the all-time series 17-12-1.

• The Gamecocks own an 8-5-1 edge in Columbia, although the Wildcats have won each of the past two meetings there.

• UK is riding a five-game winning streak in the series and has won six of the past nine contests.

• The series has been defined by extended winning streaks, one from each team. South Carolina won 10 straight from 2000-09 before UK’s recent success.

• The UK margin of victory has increased each of the past four years from four to seven to ten to fourteen last season.

• UK held the Gamecocks to 321 total yards last season, produced four sacks – three by Josh Allen – seven tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles (one recovered).

• The Wildcats have out-rushed the Gamecocks each of the past four years, reaching at least 184 rushing yards in each of those games.

• The Cats have eclipsed 200 rushing yards three times in the past five meetings.

• The teams first met in 1937, a 27-7 UK win, and then not again until 1978. They have met annually since 1992 when the Gamecocks joined the SEC.

Kentucky-South Carolina Connections

• Kentucky has three players from the state of South Carolina: PK Chance Poore (Anderson), RB Travis Tisdale (Andrews) and DB Jalen Geiger (Columbia).

• South Carolina does not have a player on its roster from Kentucky.

A UK Win Would…

• Give the Wildcats their sixth-straight win over South Carolina.

• Be the third-straight win for the Cats in Columbia, the most consecutive road wins against an SEC opponent since winning three straight vs. Vanderbilt in Nashville from 2005-09.

• Make UK 5-5 in its past ten SEC games.

• Push the Cats’ record over the last 18 games to 13-5.

• Improve UK’s record in August and September over the past six seasons to 20-7.

On the Road Again

• One of the hallmarks of the last two seasons under Coach Mark Stoops has been the team’s ability to win on the road.

• In each of the past two seasons, Kentucky has posted a 3-2 record in away games at the opponent stadium (does not include neutral site games). Not including neutral site games, it is the first time UK had a winning away record in consecutive years since 1952 and 1953, when the Wildcats went 3-2-1 and 2-1-1, respectively, in those two seasons.