A Path Clears ... The Cats took an unfortunate detour when they lost the season opener to Southern Miss, but last night's win may go a long way toward compensating for it. There are two ways to look at it: the optimist says both of those games were "toss-ups," and UK simply split; the pessimist, however, will be stewing over a missed opportunity to be 3-1. As it stands, the Cats are 2-2 and need to play .500 ball from here on out to make their first bowl game under Mark Stoops. Kentucky figures to have a decent shot to win against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Missouri and Austin Peay, although that trip to Mizzou is looking tougher than anyone expected back in the summer. The Tigers suddenly have offense, and the Cats have not played well in Columbia since Mizzou entered the league. Still, that's four games you could have moderately reasonable expectations to win and make a bowl game without the aid of a major upset over someone like Alabama, Tennessee or Louisville. Georgia is tough to figure out after yesterday's 45-14 loss at Ole Miss, but the Bulldogs will still be hard to handle in Athens and with their potent rushing attack.
Determined Defense ... Under siege from fans, media and their coaches alike, the defense turned in their best outing of the season. The Cats allowed only 10 points, 268 total yards, 91 yards rushing and three third-down conversions. They came into the matchup allowing 43.7, 528, 243 and 10 in each of those respective categories. A dramatic turnaround, even though this South Carolina squad is certainly not going to be mistaken for offensive juggernauts like Bama or UofL. Still, it's a step in the right direction. When you were play as bad as UK was playing, baby steps are important. The front seven was particularly encouraging, getting impact performances from guys like Denzil Ware (5 tackles, 2 sacks), Josh Allen (7 tackles, 1 sack), Courtney Miggins (5 tackles, 1 TFL), Alvonte Bell (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Naquez Pringle (4 tackles, 1 sack) all played well. From the naked eye, it also appeared that nose tackle Matt Elam had one of his better games at the point of attack, tying up blockers so that linebackers Jordan Jones (8 tackles) and Courtney Love (6 tackles) could flow and do their thing.
The Benny & Boom Show ... Somewhat quietly, Kentucky has one of the best rushing tandems in the SEC emerging with Benny Snell Jr. and Boom Williams. After combining for 317 yards and five touchdowns in the win over New Mexico State, the duo combined for 196 yards and two scores against South Carolina. "I think we're starting to put some people on notice," said Williams, who now has a robust 8.0 yards per carry average on the season. Snell is getting 6.3 a pop. They'll get a chance to measure themselves against some of the best defenders in the game next week when they face Nick Saban's Alabama defense.
Thrice Is Nice ... Stoops may be struggling to find consistent success against the rest of the SEC, but he's seemingly got the Gamecocks' number. It's the first time the Cats have defeated an SEC opponent three consecutive times since winning four in a row over Vanderbilt from 2004-07.
Nitpickin' ... This was a really good win for the Cats, so we're not going to spend much time in this space. But they'll need a better passing attack next week in order to be respectable at Bama. Stephen Johnson was 11-for-19 for 135 yards and one interception. He was also sacked four times by a South Carolina defense that had only five sacks combined during the first three weeks of the season. Johnson held onto the ball a bit too long on at least three of those. He made some decent plays with his feet, but will likely need to make some downfield throws to move the chains against the Crimson Tide. The Cats will be looking for Garrett Johnson and Jeff Badet to make some big plays.
Idea ... Not sure what South Carolina's Hayden Hurst was thinking with his attempted hurdle of 6-foot-4 UK corner Chris Westry, but it may be safe to say that was the final time he'll give that a try. Ouch.
The week leading up to the South Carolina game was one of the worst in the Stoops Era. It began with the Cats coming off a win, albeit one which saw them struggle royally to stop a New Mexico State team that put up video game numbers against the UK defense. The Aggies, coincidentally, went from scoring 42 against Kentucky to posting only six against Neal Brown's Troy squad last night. On Wednesday, Stoops lit into his troops for on of its worst practices since he arrived in Lexington. The defensive players, in particular, were put on blast with some of the most personal commentary Stoops has used in his tenure. Some started to question whether the UK boss was losing his players. With angst building around Big Blue Nation, the rumor mill kicked into overdrive. Many of them were deeply personal and targeted Stoops. Some websites and bloggers completely ran with them. It was an unfortunate side of sports that inevitably raises its ugly head when an organization struggles. Stoops isn't the first UK coach to have faced this, and, sadly, probably won't be the last.