Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline hit a wide open Randall Cobb on fourth-and-seven for a game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 left in the game, and Wildcat cornerback Anthony Mosely intercepted a Stephen Garcia pass in the end zone to end any hope of a South Carolina victory. The Wildcat win snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Gamecocks and was also the first victory over a Spurrier-coached team in 18 games.
"You've got to give Kentucky credit for all the third downs they made," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said following the game. "And they made the fourth down. They just beat us."
"We've got to play four quarters of football," Garcia said. "We can't play a half and expect to win in the SEC on the road against anybody. We have to put together a four-quarter game."
The Gamecocks appeared to be on the way for a rout early on. After winning the toss and electing to receive, D.J. Swearinger got a rare start at kick return and returned the opening kick 18 yards to the Gamecock 28. After a delay of game on the first offensive play attempt, Garcia hit Tori Gurley for a 25-yard gain on a short crossing route. After two short runs by Marcus Lattimore, Garcia hit Alshon Jeffery for a 15-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, it was Lattimore finding the end zone for the his ninth touchdown run of the season on a delayed draw, breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage and juking a defensive back for a career-long 30-yard run to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
Jay Wooten sent a line-drive kick to Cobb, who got it out to the 26 before Antonio Allen made the stop. After two Hartline completions got the ball to mid-field, the ‘Cats tried some trickeration with a Cobb reverse. Devin Taylor was not fooled and made the tackle four yards in the backfield. The ‘Cats then went to the ‘wildcat' and the Gamecocks shifted into a blitz and Allen hit Cobb for a three-yard loss. The ‘Cats couldn't convert the third-and-long and Kentucky pinned the Gamecocks at the 12-yard line.
Just as the first drive, the Gamecocks went backwards before they could even get something positive. A holding penalty on T.J. Johnson moved the ball back to the six, but Kentucky gave five right back with an offside penalty. After a Lattimore run, Connor Shaw entered the game. There was a miscommunication to say the least and no body moved but Johnson, who snapped the ball. Shaw made something out of nothing and gained nine yards to move the chains. Garcia came back in and immediately hit a 42-yard pass to Ace Sanders down the sideline. After a Lattimore two-yard loss, Garcia found a wide open Lattimore on a wheel route for 30 yards to get inside the Kentucky five. Three plays later Garcia found Alshon Jeffery on a slant for his fifth touchdown of the season and the Gamecocks were rolling, leading 14-0.
After forcing a Kentucky three-and-out, the Gamecocks went back to work at the Wildcat 42 after a 19-yard Stephon Gilmore punt return. For third straight drive, the drive started with a penalty, this time a Kentucky offside penalty. After a Brain Maddox first down run and back-to-back incompletions, Garcia's third down pass was intercepted by Kentucky's Winston Guy Jr. at the Wildcat 44-yard line.
The ‘Cats took advantage of the turnover. Hartline hit Chris Matthews for 24 yards on the first play, then Cobb for nine more yards to get inside the red zone for the first time. The Wildcats converted two third-and-shorts to get inside the 10. After a Kentucky timeout, Hartline hit La'Rod King for a touchdown to get the ‘Cats on the board, 14-7.
After Swearinger took the kick-off to the 23-yard line, the Gamecocks tried to go with Lattimore on the ground twice, but didn't get much. Garcia then hit Lattimore on a lob-screen pass for 48 yards to get into the Kentucky red zone. After another false start penalty and two incompletions put the Gamecocks in a third-and-long, Garcia found Jeffery for a 19-yard completion down to the Wildcat 10. On the next play, Lattimore runs it right off the left guard, breaking a tackle and picking up his 10th rushing touchdown of the season to give the Gamecocks a 21-7 lead to answer the Wildcat touchdown. Lattimore is now sixth in Gamecock history in touchdowns in a single season, five behind Harold Green's school record back in 1987.
A personal foul on the Gamecocks on the kickoff gave the ‘Cats excellent field position. After picking up a first down to move into Gamecock territory, the Wildcats converted a fourth down with Hartline hitting Donald Russell over the middle for the first down. Facing a third-and-long, Gilmore broke up a pass intended for Matthews. Matthews got up and took a shot at Gilmore for a 15-yard penalty and taking the ‘Cats out of field goal position. Gilmore then muffed the punt inside the 10-yard line and Kentucky recovered at the 11. After an incompletion, Taylor nailed Hartline for a 10-yard loss. The ‘Cats tried to set up a screen on third-and-long, but came up well short of the first down. The Wildcats had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh to trim the Gamecock lead to 21-10.
Swearinger ran the following kickoff to the 33, and an offside penalty on Kentucky added five yards. After a Lattimore 7-yard run and 8-yard reception, Garcia found Lattimore on another wheel route for a 47-yard touchdown, Lattimore's third of the game to stretch the Gamecock lead to 28-10.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Gamecocks took over on their 25-yard line looking to add on right before the half. Garcia hit Jeffery for a 16-yard gain to get near mid-field. Garcia then found Sanders over the middle for 24 yards, but Sanders coughed it up and Kentucky's Mosley recovered at the Wildcat 28-yard line as the first half came to a close with the Gamecocks holding a 28-10 lead. Garcia was 11-for-17 with 281 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
"He was beautiful in the first half," Spurrier said. He had one of his great, statistically, games. I think he play OK overall."
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, there was a second half.
"They stuffed us offensively in the second half," Spurrier said. "We didn't have much of a running game, but they stayed on the field most of the half and we had to punt a lot. It didn't work out very well."
After Kentucky went three and out to open up the half, the Gamecocks took over from their 17. Lattimore got the first two carries of the half, but went out after the second carry with a sprained ankle and did not return. Facing third-and-7 after a false start, Garcia rolled to the right and just chunked the ball up for Lamar Scruggs. The ball was about 15 yards behind Scruggs, but he stopped and ran back to it to make the catch for a 39-yard gain. The Gamecocks could not get anything else and Spencer Lanning was called on to punt. The punt was ugly, but effective as it backed the Wildcats back inside the 10.
"Spencer Lanning punted beautifully," Spurrier said. "We got out of some jams." Lanning finished with four punts for an average of 44 and a long of 51.
The Wildcats converted three consecutive third downs to move near midfield, then Hartline hit Russell on a screen for 37 yards down inside the Gamecock 15. Facing third-and-4 from the five, Hartline hit King crossing the back of the end zone for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats within 11, 28-17 Gamecocks.
"Defensively, we had a lot of great plays on first and second down," Spurrier said. "But third down, I don't know how many they made, but just about all of them in the second half. (7-for-11) That's what happens in close games."
Bryce Sherman returned his first kick of the game out to the Gamecock 36-yard line. The Gamecocks went three-and-out with help from a Taylor Wyndham sack and was forced to punt it right back to the ‘Cats.
Just as the previous drive, the ‘Cats converted big plays, a third-and-long and fourth-and-two. After the fourth down conversion, Hartline found Matthews in one-on-one coverage with C.C. Whitlock. Matthews made the catch, made Whitlock miss and took it to the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown. The two point conversation attempt failed and the Gamecocks lead was cut to 28-23.
"Hartline might be the best pocket-passer in the SEC," Gamecock assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said. "But when you've got someone third-and-12, third-and-11, third-and-eight we've got to make some plays. We just don't have consistency in coverage right now."
"We stopped them on first and second down," Gamecock defensive tackle Travian Robertson said. "They were beating us on third down, and when it came to third and long, we just couldn't get off the field and that's something we're going to have to keep working on."
The Gamecock offensive implosion continued on the following drive. After Garcia missed the snap for a 9-yard loss, Jeffery was called for offensive pass interference to back the Gamecocks inside their own 10. The Gamecocks were forced to punt. Lanning booted a beautiful 47-yard punt, Cobb muffed it but the ‘Cats were able to recover at the Kentucky 28-yard line.
The Gamecock defense stepped up and held the ‘Cats, but Gilmore muffed another put and lost eight yards on the return back to the Gamecock 5-yard line. The Gamecocks picked up only their second first down of the second half, but a 4-yard loss on a pass to Maddox in the flats and delay of game had the Gamecock back inside the 10. Garcia's third down pass was over Sanders' head and the Gamecocks were forced to punt again. Lanning delivered a 51-yard punt, Cobb was hit where he caught it, and a 10-yard Kentucky penalty backed the ‘Cats to their 32-yard line.
The Wildcats quickly moved down the field with the receivers just sitting down in the holes in the zone. The ‘Cats tried the ‘wildcat' formation facing third-and-two from the 20 and cobb was hit for a 5-yard loss. On fourth-and-seven, Hartline found a wide open Cobb for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the ‘Cats the lead. Cobb ran for the two-point conversion to give Kentucky the final lead, 31-28.
"Busted coverage," Johnson said. "It's getting to be a common thing. It's got to stop. It's just very disappointing."
Hartline finished 32-for-42 for 349 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. Matthews had 12 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown and King had two touchdowns on four receptions.
The Gamecocks started their final drive from the 31-yard line. Garcia hit Jeffery for an 8-yard gain, then Garcia ran for the first down. Garcia then hit D.L. Moore for 16-yard completion down to the Kentucky 38. Garcia then hit Gurley for 18 yards down to the 20-yard line. Instead of going for the game-tying field goal right away, Spurrier elected to take a shot at the end zone.
"We were in field goal range, I knew that, but I thought it was worth a shot to run a little man-to-man to the back of the end zone. It was a bad call."
Garcia tried to throw the fade to Scruggs, but it was under thrown and intercepted by Kentucky's Mosely to end the game.
"(We) had one-on-one with our receiver but Stephen, it just didn't come out of his hand very well," Spurrier said. "He got it inside instead of the outside corner, and they came by and got the ricochet pick just like the last three weeks."
Garcia finished the game going 20-for-32 for 382 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Lattimore carried the ball 15 times for 81 yards and had four catches for 133 yards before leaving the game after the second play of the second half. Jeffery had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
"Give Kentucky credit," Spurrier said. "They kicked our tails in the second half and played a lot better than we did."
The Gamecocks, due to Florida's loss to Mississippi State, still sit atop the SEC East at 2-2 (4-2 overall). The Gamecocks hit the road again next week as they will take on Vanderbilt in Nashville.
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