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Kentucky Wildcats' keys to winning Saturday against South Carolina Gamecocks

In this edition of AllWildcats “Four Downs,” we take a look at the main keys to Kentucky’s hopes of leaving South Carolina with first road win of the Mark Stoops era...

1. Establish Line of Scrimmage

Kentucky rolled up 178 yards rushing last week, but 75 of those came from Boom Williams on the first play of the game and the Cats wound up running the ball only 25 more times the rest of the night against a UL Lafayette defense that stacked the box and dared UK to throw deep. They'll need more balance to win this game, and if you listened carefully to Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson this week, it was clear that they intend to lean harder on the ground game in this matchup. South Carolina allowed North Carolina to rush for 208 yards (6.5 per carry) in its 17-13 Week 1 victory. Take a close look at what is going on in the trenches on the first series or two on Saturday. If UK is struggling to establish the line of scrimmage, that could be a bad harbinger for the rest of the night.  

2. Win Turnover Battle

Turnovers are always a big key in any game, but they loom even larger when you're on the road and momentum becomes such a major factor. Last year in UK's four SEC away games, the Wildcats turned the ball over six times and forced only two. The offensive number was actually respectable. But two forced turnovers out of 318 defensive snaps played is not going to win you many games. That kind of ratio won't be good enough to beat the Gamecocks, who were extremely opportunistic in their opener. North Carolina was in control for most of that game, but the Tar Heels tossed three interceptions in the red zone, two of them coming in the end zone. South Carolina had no turnovers and is 45-4 under Steve Spurrier when winning the turnover battle. This is a game in which the Cats should be able to move the ball like UNC did (208 rushing, 232 passing) but they have to avoid the miscues and cash in on their scoring opportunities. A potential good sign: UK has scored on 12 consecutive red-zone opportunities dating back to the 2014 season.

3. Limit Big Plays

Last week, UK played solid defense into the third quarter before things got really strange at Commonwealth Stadium. UL Lafayette battled back from a 33-10 deficit to tie the game at 33 with 7:36 remaining, thanks in large part to big plays. The Ragin' Cajuns had a 56-yard run, a 26-yard run and a 23-yard run during the comeback. Throw in a 43-yard pass from earlier in the game, and 142 of ULL's 479 yards (30 percent of its total offense) came on four plays. UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said most of those plays were the result of one or two players busting an assignment rather than the Cats being physically beaten, so there's some hope that they can get that corrected. South Carolina struggled to sustain and cap many drives with points against UNC, but did show some of the same big-play ability that hurt the Cats in their opener. The Gamecocks had plays of 48, 27, 20 and 22 yards against the Heels. UK has to make them earn whatever they get Saturday.

4. Figure Out Pharoh

Easier said than done, but the Cats' hopes of upsetting South Carolina will certainly hinge on containing the Gamecocks' versatile Pharoh Cooper. One of the best all-around players in the college game -- and someone who may remind Big Blue Nation a bit of former Cat Randall Cobb -- the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Cooper did a little bit of everything last week in the season opener. He ran four times for 20 yards off direct snaps, threw the ball twice and caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchddown. South Carolina quarterback Connor Mitch completed just nine of 22 passes (40 percent) against the Tar Heels, so don't be surprised if Spurrier has a quick hook in this one. Kentucky has frequently had more trouble against dual-threat or "Wildcat" quarterbacks than pocket passers, so this situation bears watching closely. 


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