South Carolina, coming off the biggest win in program history with a 35-21 victory over #1 Alabama, must now focus all their attention on Kentucky. Kentucky is 3-3 on the season, but has yet to win a conference game this season. This is the definition of a classic letdown game.
"This is probably one of the biggest games in school history for us, it really is, to see if we can come back from last week and play well," Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier said at his weekly press conference. "Kentucky is a good team. They've lost some close games. They lost two high-scoring games to Ole Miss (42-35) and then Auburn (27-24) last week.
If the Gamecocks want to move to the next level, they must do something they haven't done very well in recent history; win on the road. The Gamecocks have not won a road game since a 7-3 victory to open the 2009 season against NC State.
"we're going to go up to Kentucky, see if we can win a road game," Spurrier said. "We've really struggled on the road here for quite a while. I think our last road victory was N .C. State, opening game of last year, so we've not been very good on the road and we'll try out best to change that."
Since then, the Gamecocks have lost five straight road games - all conference games - and only a 41-37 loss to Georgia was by a touchdown or less. Over that same time span, the Gamecocks have won 11 of 12 home games, including wins over #4 Ole Miss and #1 Alabama. The lone loss was a 24-14 loss to then-#1 Florida in 2009.
"Well, I think the schedule has helped us a little bit, but we have played well here at home," Spurrier said. "Good fortune has happened here at home and good fortune has not happened on the road that much. That could be part of it. Our first couple of years we were about even, road and home. But lately it's lopsided, so we need to see if we can win on the road. Obviously, to have any kind of big season, you've got to win a bunch of road games. And right now we're 0-1. So we'll see how we do."
With a 35-27 loss to Auburn three weeks ago, the Gamecocks have now lost its lost six SEC road games. The last road win for the Gamecocks was a 34-27 win in Lexington, KY against the Wildcats in 2008.
"Who knows (if the Gamecocks are a poor road team)," Spurrier said. "Every team is different as we know. Our guys have been on the road once and didn't play our best at Auburn. Maybe we learned from it. Maybe if we'd beaten Auburn we would not have won this one so you just keep playing. Very hard to go undefeated as we know in any league so you got to play them all out. You play them all out and some teams get better as the season goes and some get worse. So we're very healthy right now so we'll see if we get better or we get worse."
One of the keys to beating a team on the road in the SEC is to control the clock. That could play very well into the hands of the Gamecocks this week. The Gamecocks are averaging nearly 157 yards rushing a game, while the Wildcats give up 190 yards per game on the ground.
"Defensively, they've given up some rushing yards, but they play hard, they play tough," Spurrier said. "And they've got a good bunch of athletes. So anyway, it'll be a big challenge for us to see if we can go play well. I don't know if we can or not. Every coach always says, you know, ‘last week's history, blah, blah, blah,' we'll find out if it is or not. It'll be up to our players."
That means the Wildcats will likely get a heavy dose of freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore, coming off a 93-yard rushing performance against against the Tide, has rushed for 473 yards and eight touchdowns through five games. No Gamecock has scored more than eight touchdowns in a season since Cory Boyd rushed for nine in 2007.
"Oh, Marcus is already considered one of the best around, there's no question about that," Spurrier said. "And he handles praise pretty well. He comes out to practice every day, doesn't say much. So, he's the kind of kid that all the players really love, I think. But we'll let him earn his way as he goes through the year, and whatever accolades come to him, we'll let it take its course. But he's certainly a very good player, and very good teammate. Guys love him."
One of the keys to a game when facing a team that has struggled is to jump out to an early lead. The longer you let a team hang around, particularly on the road, the more dangerous they become.
"That's important every game if you can," Spurrier said. "But if you can't, you don't say, ‘oh, gosh, we're in trouble.' I don't know how the game is going to play out. The only think you can concern yourself with is trying to keep your players mentally into it the entire game and see how you do when it's all over with. So, you hope to get ahead early, but if you don't, you hope to be ahead at the end of the game."
Thanks in large part to offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, the Gamecocks have a new offensive style. Things that have bit the Gamecocks in the past - delay of game penalties or having to use timeouts after not being able to get the play in on time - has not been an issue this season. That is key in road games.
"I hope so," Spurrier said. "We were noticing the other day since we huddled at the line of scrimmage now we don't get delay of games. Our personnel, we've been able to get guys in and out, off the field. Had 11 out there all the time. I said, man, some people probably think we're real smart coaches now because that's not easy to do, to always have 11 and get the play off, chance plays and so forth. Yeah, Shawn Elliott really is the guy that brought in a lot of what we do now. So Shawn's been a really very good hire as our O-line coach and our style of offense, the ability to run the ball in from inside the 5-yard line. Gosh, we could never do that before here but having Marcus and maybe that little scheme of blocking we do now I think gives us a chance to do that. Hopefully it'll continue. Hopefully the red zone touchdowns will continue because that's what we've been good in – red zone defense and red zone offense. In the middle of the field, our yards are a lot like everybody else, giving and taking."
If the Gamecocks, who come into the contest in sole possession of first place in the SEC East, hope to remain there following Saturday night's match-up with the Wildcats, they must play just as well as they did following the big win over Alabama. That is something the team didn't do the last time they were coming off a big win.
"Well the plan is to talk only about Kentucky and getting ready for Kentucky," Spurrier said. "And the plan is for the coaches to be ready to play. I don't think it's always true, because I coached my butt off trying to beat UConn and that didn't work out a dang bit. Us coaches, we try to win them all, and sometimes maybe the message gets out, sometimes it doesn't. But I didn't coach any harder against Alabama, than I did UConn, I can tell you that right now. In fact, I coached harder against UConn. We had a whole dang month to try to play those guys, but it didn't work out very well that game."
UK May Be Down a Weapon
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips announced that leading rusher Derrick Locke may miss the South Carolina game. Locke, who is suffering from a stinger, has not recovered according to Phillips.
"Derrick Locke still has no feeling in his arm," Phillips said Monday in his weekly press conference. "well, he does have feeling, not as much as needed in his arm, in his shoulder with the stinger. His status is doubtful."
Locke, who has rushed for 574 yards and seven touchdowns this season, would be a significant loss for the ‘Cats. In last season's Carolina victory, Locke rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Even without Locke, Kentucky will still have its most dangerous weapon available, Randall Cobb. Cobb, who has 178 rushing yards, 51 passing yards, 403 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns, will likely see his production increase even more this weekend.
"Some people think Randall Cobb is the most exciting player in the conference," Spurrier said. "He could be, he very easily could be the most elusive and throw, catch, run, he can do it all, so our defense will really be tested to try to slow him down and slow down their offense."
Cobb almost single-handedly brought the Wildcats back in last season's 28-26 Gamecock win in Columbia. Cobb, used mainly out of the ‘wildcat' formation late in the game, ran for 92 yards, had 62 yards receiving, and scored two touchdowns. The Gamecocks won after holding the Wildcats on a late 2-point conversion attempt.
"Kentucky, because they're a team that's very capable of beating us, and probably should have beat us last year in that game," Spurrier said. "We were very fortunate we scored touchdowns instead of field goals last year, and they had to kick a couple of short ones, they dropped a couple of touchdown passes, but we escaped with a 2-point win last year. And I think it's pretty much their same team, I think they lost a couple of defensive players or so. But they're a good team. And they've been to bowl games three or four years in a row now, so they'll look forward to beating us Saturday night up there at 6:00."
More from the Alabama game.
With the win over Alabama, Steve Spurrier moved into second place all-time in SEC history with 107 SEC wins. The win moved him past legendary Mississippi coach John Vaught. Paul "Bear" Bryant's 159 wins remains the most in league history. Spurrier isn't sure if there's any current coaches that can threaten to pass him in league wins.
"It just depends on how long Urban Meyer (32) and Nick Saban (46) want to coach," Spurrier said. "I would say those guys could be there another 10 years if they wanted to but I don't know what their plans are. I didn't think I'd still be coaching but physically I feel the same as I did when I was 50. And I look forward to it and we've got some good players here. Everybody always says ‘how much longer you going to do this?' And I say, ‘hey I've got Marcus Lattimore, I've got Connor Shaw as freshmen. We got a bunch of players here. We haven't had that the first five years and now Stephen Garcia looks like he knows how to play the game very well and hopefully that will continue. We've got some young linemen, defensive players so we're hoping the best days are still to come. We'll find out."
If the Gamecocks continue to play well and achieve their goal of winning the SEC East, Spurrier believes he may look back on this game as potentially the biggest win in his illustrious career.
"It's a good one," Spurrier said. "If it leads to something special then we can look back on it and say that it was very big. It was obviously a big day for all South Carolina Gamecocks and for our state, the state of South Carolina and Columbia. The exposure we got last Saturday was obviously very good. But we'll look back and see if it led to anything big for our team this season or if it was just a one day fluke hoopla."
The Gamecocks, who are now 2-1 in the SEC, are in first place in the East after the win. With Georgia and Tennessee in a down-turn and Florida losing two conference games in a row, the opportunity is there for the Gamecocks to win the East for the first time. However, a loss to Kentucky could kill that.
"Well the key, if you want to have a big year, obviously we do have a chance to win the east, we have a chance, we may not," Spurrier said. "We may fall on our face, I don't know what's going to happen. But this is certainly the year with the opportunity because Florida has already lost a couple. And we've got some teams that we can play with, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The opportunity is there if we can really go play well. The opportunity is there because, we're not a lot better than those teams, but we can play with these teams that we're facing. And whether or not we can get ourselves ready, and really play well remains to be seen."
Spurrier believes that history is on the side of the Wildcats this weekend.
"We all try to learn from history," Spurrier said. "And history tells us teams that have had big wins at times don't do very well the next time. We all know that. Gosh, I can go back, our days at Florida, when we'd lose to a team, they usually lost the next week. It was sort of a bad omen to beat Florida, because they'd go back and lose after that. Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU and down the line, so we're just trying to learn from history, and if we get beat just because we weren't able to go play our best. Now, we may play our best and still lose. We may play our best and Kentucky might just out-play us. We've just got to go play the game to see how we are. I talked to our guys a little bit last week about it's more important to beat our division opponents than the western division guys, so we're starting to into the eastern division opponents, three in a row here. So, anyway, it's a huge game, and we'll see how we do."
Garcia Thinking Well
Stephen Garcia had a career day in the win over the Tide. Garcia was 17-for-20 for 201 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception.
"Yeah, Stephen is thinking much better, much better," Spurrier said. "He was mentally sharp throughout the game. And he took care of the ball very well the other day. And I think we only had one sack, and Hutch took a bad set and he almost whiffed his guy. And that was a good sack. I mean Stephen had no chance to throw that away. So you can't always throw it away. That was a time just to get down and take the four- or five-yard sack. I think we came off that and made the first down on that drive in the third quarter. So his thinking was very good Saturday. And hopefully he can continue doing that. He's throwing the ball better, and he's throwing with guys rushing at him now. He used to take off running as soon as he saw one coming.
"But, yeah, Stephen, that was by far his best game, and the key is trying to do it again and again and again," Spurrier continued. "Our sport is a 12-game season and you have some big moments and a little bit of low moments, and you try to get your guys to get ready emotionally every week, and the winners do that and the losers are up and down. So, we're trying to be like winners."
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