After going 5-7 each of the past two seasons, the Gamecocks shouldn't overlook anyone. Yet, one week after improving to 4-1 with a 20-3 victory at Alabama and moving into the national polls at No. 25, the Gamecocks did just that in losing 31-28 at home to a Rebel team that, until then, had been struggling.
"Of course some teams are going to get comfortable with some of the teams that you've got to play, that you think you can beat them," wide receiver Troy Williamson said. "That's one thing we can't do no more, no matter who we play."
The Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2 SEC) failed to focus on Ole Miss and it showed from the start. Favored by 16 1/2 points, the Gamecocks fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter, and trailed 21-14 at halftime.
South Carolina finally asserted itself and took a 28-24 lead on a 17-yard run by tailback Demetrius Summers with 12:28 left in the game. But, as had been the case throughout the game, the Gamecocks dropped their guard.
First, tailback Daccus Turman gained only 1 yard on third-and-2, forcing South Carolina to punt. That gave the Rebels one more chance from their 27-yard line with 2:31 left. Ole Miss Quarterback Ethan Flatt moved the Rebels to the South Carolina 29 with three completions. On fourth down from the 29, cornerback Fred Bennett was beaten by Ole Miss wide receiver Bill Flowers for a 29-yard touchdown, despite South Carolina's four-deep zone coverage.
"They threw up a prayer in the fourth quarter and it got answered," said Rick Minter, South Carolina defensive coordinator. "That's all you can say about that one."
The finish stunned South Carolina's players.
"We thought we had it wrapped up," quarterback Syvelle Newton said, "but in a football game, you never can say you've got a game wrapped up."
Kentucky is hoping for a repeat performance in Saturday's annual homecoming matchup.
USC Offense vs. UK Defense
Newton was a serious bright spot for South Carolina despite the loss, and looks to be the Gamecocks scheduled signal caller come Saturday. With starter Dondrial Pinkins sidelined by a shoulder injury, Newton made his second start of the season this past weekend against Ole Miss and although, he struggled early in the game, he finished with 356 yards of offense and two touchdowns -- a 33-yard pass and a 38-yard run. Third-stringer Blake Mitchell saw playing time against Ole Miss, throwing a 17-yard touchdown to help bring USC back from an early deficit. He should share some playing time with Newton against Kentucky on Saturday.
With Newton at quarterback, the Gamecocks will go back to their primary run-oriented offense with Demetrius Summers slated to return to the lineup after a two- game hiatus this weekend. Despite playing only a little more then half of USC six games, Summers is still the Gamecocks leading rusher, averaging over 50 yards a game. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, he is more then just a power back, as he can beat you with his deceiving speed to the corner.
If the Cats continue to struggle wrapping up tacklers as they did against Alabama, UK will get absolutely manhandled come Saturday against this rushing attack.
The star of the show for USC is Troy Williamson, the SEC's leading receiver with 23 catches for 619 yards this season for an average of 26.9 yards per catch and 5 TDs. Earlier this season against South Florida, Williamson caught five passes for an astonishing 210 yards and 3 scores. For his career, the Jackson (SC) native has caught 71 balls for 1,538 yards and 11 TDs, owning the USC and SEC mark for longest pass reception with a 99 yarder last season against Virginia. He currently has scored 5 of South Carolina's 7 passing touchdowns this year. Needless to say, he is a play-maker with the ball in his hands and the Gamecocks will give him every opportunity to do just that.
USC Defense vs. UK Offense
Defensively, the Gamecocks feature one of the fastest defenses in the league as well as one of the most talented units in the country. Under the direction of new defensive coordinator Rick Minter, the unit has only given up 3 passing touchdown's all season and given the team a new identity after last year's lackluster start.
Moe Thompson at the start of the season was supposed to be the star on the Gamecock line after earning honorable mention All-SEC honors last year. The 280-pound junior has fallen on hard times of late, as teams have run away from him to keep him from making plays. In six games of action, he only has tallied 10 tackles and after having five sacks a year ago, has yet to record his first sack of the season. His mere presence, though, gets teams to run to the opposite side. Nobody is hoping for a more breakout performance then him.
Marcus Lawrence is the team's leading tackler on defense, recording 38 stops with 5 tackles for loss this year. Last year, the former JUCO All-American led the team in tackles with 88. He stops the run and can stiff out any quarterback draw that the Wildcats hope to throw at the Gamecocks.
The true difference for the Gamecocks this year from last year has been the play of true freshmen, Ko Simpson. The 6-2 true freshmen has been a tremendous addition to the Gamecock secondary, currently placing second on the team in tackles, with 36 stops, while also leading the team in interceptions (3), interception return yards (93) and pass breakups (5).
Record: USC, 8-6-1 * Last: USC, 27-21 (10/9/2003 at Columbia)
South Carolina has won the last four meetings ... In games played in Lexington, Carolina leads, 5-3 ... The last UK win in the series was a 30-10 decision in 1999 at Columbia ... The last UK win in Lexington was a 33-28 contest in 1998 ... The teams have met every year since 1992, when USC came into the SEC ... The teams met three times beforehand (1937-78-81) ... Seven of the 12 meetings since 1992 have been decided by a TD-or-less ... Lou Holtz is 4-1 against Kentucky while Rich Brooks is 0-1 against the Gamecocks ... UK wide receivers coach Joker Phillips served in a similar capacity on the USC coaching staff during the 2002 season ... Kentucky has posted a 43-15 (.741) record in Homecoming games ... UK defeated Ohio U., 35-14, in last season's Homecoming game ... UK defeated Carolina, 33-28, in the 1998 UK Homecoming game ... In last season's game, Carolina held off Kentucky, 27-21, in a Thursday night game ... Carolina held a 27-7 lead going into the fourth quarter before the Wildcats scored two TDs to close out the scoring ... USC QB Dondrial Pinkins threw for 184 yards and rushed for 27 more while the UK QB tandem of Jared Lorenzen and Shane Boyd each had a passing TD.