Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Defense rises up as Kentucky Wildcats claim 17-10 win over South Carolina Gamecocks

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In what may have been the most important game of Mark Stoops' tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats delivered a performance Saturday night against South Carolina that fans envisioned when the defensive-minded coach arrived four years ago.

Kentucky held the Gamecocks to only 268 yards of total offense -- almost half of what the Cats were allowing per game this season -- and sacked the quarterback five times to highlight a 17-10 win at Commonwealth Stadium.

It marked the third consecutive win in the series by Kentucky (2-2, 1-1 SEC) which saw new life breathed into its season after a disappointing 0-2 start.

"That's the way this football team needs to play, with that passion and energy that every fan expects, that we expect and that we will do," Stoops said. "These guys mean well... They come to work. They have accepted it, and they looked in the mirror. You can't change the past, but we can certainly change our future and push forward."

The UK defense turned in its best effort in just about every nook of the final stat sheet. South Carolina (2-2, 1-2 SEC) rushed for only 91 yards and 2.6 yards per carry. The Gamecocks converted only three of 13 third-down attempts.

"When you can get off the field, you limit your opportunities, yards and points," Stoops said.

Denzil Ware recorded the last of UK's sacks, a game-clincher on the Gamecocks' Brandon McIlwain with 2:23 remaining. The sophomore linebacker/end from Alabama may have played his best game as a Cat with five tackles and two sacks.

From there, the Cats were able to run out the clock with a rushing attack that finished with 216 yards. Boom Williams carried the ball 15 times for 123 yards and one touchdown, while freshman Benny Snell Jr. added 16 carries for 73 yards and the go-ahead TD at the 10:21 mark of the fourth quarter.

https://twitter.com/KYwildcatsTV/status/779917537073061889

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson II completed 11 of 19 passes for 135 yards and one interception in his first collegiate start. His 8-yard run early in the fourth quarter gave the Cats first-and-goal to set up Snell's game-winner. 

"It may have been only six or seven yards," UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said, "but they were the most important yards of the game. He made winning plays."

In this All Wildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the highlights from the UK victory...

WHAT WE LIKED:

Kentucky built on the momentum it established in the second half of the New Mexico State game when the Cats allowed only seven points. The defense played with passion and intensity after taking a lot of criticism from the coaches, fans, and media all week. The offense wasn't clicking on all cylinders, but South Carolina is a solid defensive club that entered the night allowing only 17.3 points per game. Will Muschamp is a proven commodity on that side of the ball. Kentucky ground out a hard-fought victory with a rushing attack that may start being recognized as one of the SEC's best. Special teams were also big in the three-phase victory as Austin MacGinnis booted a 30-yard field goal and Grant McKinniss averaged 41 yards per punt with a long of 53. 

GAME BALL:

Denzil Ware -- Pictured above, his consistent pressure off the edge was a big key to UK's third-down success against the Gamecocks, accounting for 21 yards in losses. The Cats also got sacks from Josh Allen, Alvonte Bell and Naquez Pringle.

BY THE NUMBERS:

0 - Passes thrown by UK in the fourth quarter.

-2 - Turnover margin for UK, its worst in an SEC victory since a 1998 game against Vanderbilt.

7 - South Carolina drives that went for 20 or fewer yards in the game.

9th - Hundred-yard rushing game in the career of Boom Williams. 

10 - The lowest point total scored by the Gamecocks and allowed by the Wildcats this season.

QUOTABLE:

"The heat's always on. It comes with the territory. So it was a needed win, yes." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops

UP NEXT:

Kentucky returns to action next week at defending national champion Alabama. The top-ranked Crimson Tide rolled to a 48-0 win Saturday over Kent State. The Cats and Tide will kick off at 7 p.m. on ESPN. 


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