No Quit In These Cats: Remember Kentucky's previous trip to South Carolina? Or last year's games against Arkansas and Vanderbilt? They ended 54-3, 49-7 and 40-0, respectively. Apologies if you had successfully wiped those from your memory bank, but they are important for context. Those opponents jumped all over the Wildcats, who basically waved the white flag and gave up on their coaches, teammates and themselves. The same thing could have happened Saturday night in Columbia as the Gamecocks raced to a 21-0 lead before the Big Blue Nation could blink. But this year's model proved to be a lot more resilient than its predecessors. Perhaps they were driven by Mark Stoops' rant about their poor practice approach earlier in the week. Kentucky chipped away at the lead, took advantage of a couple of South Carolina miscues, and put itself in a position to challenge the Gamecocks late in the fourth quarter. It even made "The Ol' Ballcoach," Steve Spurrier, squirm a little bit and consider spiking his trademark visor a couple of times. A loss is a loss is a loss, but they're not all created equally. This was the equivalent of one of you single guys asking Kate Upton for a date and getting a "When and where?" reply, even if it never materializes. Close enough to give you confidence for the try.
One Quarterback Works : For the first time this season, UK abandoned its two-headed quarterback approach and decided to ride the whole game with sophomore Jalen Whitlow, who had earned the starter's job coming out of spring and summer, but struggled in the opener against Western Kentucky and wound up splitting time with Max Smith in each of the Cats' previous games. The new approach worked. Whitlow started a little slow against the Gamecocks, but gained confidence as the game developed. He was 17-of-24 for 178 yards and two touchdowns through the air while rushing for 69 yards and another score. His 14-yard TD connection with Ryan Timmons in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty, a perfect touch pass he's often been mislabeled as being unable to throw. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown aided Whitlow with some of his best play-calling of the season, keeping a solid South Carolina defense off-balance during UK's comeback. Can they carry the momentum over to next week's game against defending national champion Alabama and the defensive genius of Nick Saban? It's a formidable challenge, but prior to Saturday night, they had no prayer. Now there's a little hope. The big payoff could come once UK emerges from this brutal four-game stretch of nationally-ranked opponents.
Clean Football: In order for the Cats to have a shot at upsetting a couple of SEC teams this season, they've got to play as "clean" as they were Saturday at South Carolina. UK has done a lot of self-inflicted damage to itself this season, but had no turnovers and only two penalties against the Gamecocks. One of those two flags didn't even look like a penalty after TV replays showed the Cats had 11 players on the field when called for having 12.
Rediscovering The Tight End: Jordan Aumiller caught three passes for 34 yards, including a key 22-yard reception on UK's final touchdown drive of the night. Anthony Kendrick also had a 16-yard reception during UK's comeback effort. The position has not been very productive for the Cats since Jacob Tamme left town for the NFL. Was this an encouraging sign of things to come?
Pass Defense: Connor Shaw wasn't expected to play earlier in the week, but the South Carolina quarterback showed no signs of the shoulder injury he suffered in the previous game. Shaw has played well against Kentucky in the past, and Saturday was no exception as he completed 17 of 20 passes for 262 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. (He also rushed for 50 yards and a score.) The last two starting quarterbacks to face the UK defense have gone a combined 32 of 38 (84 percent), numbers that can't sit well with Stoops. The secondary is his area of expertise, and it still doesn't have an interception five games deep into the season. Kentucky is tied with Georgia for last in the SEC with one interception. By contrast, Missouri and Tennessee lead the league with 11 each. The staff doesn't have many options on the back end of the defense, especially at cornerback, so it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments, if any, they can make.
Situational Tackling: Kentucky had a golden opportunity to force a South Carolina punt at the end of the game and give itself one more chance to tie the game, but the Wildcats could not stop the Gameocks on a key third-and-3 play with 2:22 remaining. It looked like UK had the run play stacked up on the left side, but South Carolina's Mike Davis slipped a tackle behind the line of scrimmage by safety Eric Dixon and then split cornerback Nate Willis and defensive end Za'Darius Smith for a 5-yard gain that effectively ended the game. It was the kind of play that Stoops says the Cats must come up with if they have any hope of winning a couple of SEC games this season.
By The Numbers:
0 - Number of Cats who touched South Carolina's Mike Davis on his 22-yard touchdown run right up the middle to give the Gamecocks a 14-0 lead. Also the statistical probability of that play being run again without anyone touching the back.
1 - Only one South Carolina punt on the night.
1-20 - UK's all-time record vs. Spurrier-coached teams.
7 of 8 - South Carolina drives that yielded points.
8 – Plays run by the Wildcats before the scoreboard read 21-0 in South Carolina's advantage.
1999 - Funkiest song about the Apocalypse ever put on record (and the last time UK won a game in Columbia).