Statistically, Stephen Garcia had another career night. He was 20-for-32 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Marcus Lattimore on several beautiful wheel routes and lobbed a screen pass to Lattimore right over the defensive end's head and right into Lattimore's arms for a huge gain. However, much like the Auburn game, Garcia's performance will be remembered for two huge mistakes.
After the defense held the Wildcats to a three and out, the Gamecock offense had the ball with a 14-0 lead. The Gamecocks moved the ball near mid-field, but Garcia tried to force a pass on a 3rd-and-10 and threw it right into the arms of Kentucky's Winston Guy. The ‘Cats drove down the field and put it in the end zone to get on the board.
The last mistake was the worst. We'll discuss the situation and the called play later on, but for now we'll focus on Garcia. It's pretty simple for the quarterback; throw the ball to the outside shoulder. You throw it to the outside shoulder and worst case scenario is you overthrow the receiver for an incomplete pass and you send out the field goal unit for a game-tying field goal attempt. You throw it to the inside shoulder and worst case scenario is you underthrow it. We all know what that means because that's exactly what happened. The ball was tipped and Kentucky's Anthony Mosely came down with it and the game is over.
If this was solely the grade of Lattimore, it's an easy A+. Lattimore was brilliant, rushing for 81 yards and two touchdowns and added four catches for 133 yards and one touchdown. However, when Lattimore went out the running game when out the window. The Gamecocks ran the ball a grand total of five times after Lattimore went out. One was a reverse to Ace Sanders that didn't work, one was the missed snap in the fourth quarter, and one was a Garcia scramble for a first down on the final drive of the game. So that left Brian Maddox with two true running plays in which he gained 5 yards. Also, where was Kenny Miles?
While Alshon Jeffery didn't have a superb game that has become the norm in recent weeks, he still had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Sanders led the receivers in yardage with 70 on two catches. In all, six Gamecock receivers caught a pass for 240 yards on 13 receptions and a touchdown.
The offensive line protected well for the most part. They only allowed one sack and the Gamecocks rushed for 110 yards. The line was only flagged for one holding penalty and two false starts. Luckily for the line, the Gamecocks were able to overcome all of them and didn't kill the drive. Spurrier has said all year that Lattimore has made the line look good so we'll likely see what this line is really made of next week with Lattimore unlikely to play. Unfortunately for the line, they never got the chance against the SEC's worst rush defense. For now, they are far from the weakest link on the team.
Kentucky's offensive line is one of the most underrated lines in the SEC. Hartline had been sacked a total of three times all season entering Saturday's game. The Gamecocks sacked him three times and got good pressure all night. They also only gave up 52 rushing yards.
The middle of the field was wide open all night. The Gamecocks got zero pressure on blitzes by the linebackers, leaving the middle open. When they dropped back into coverage the passes underneath were wide open. They did a great job with Cobb in the ‘wildcat' formation, allowing him very little room to run. Josh Dickerson nearly had the game-clinching tackle when he knocked down Cobb for a 5-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 with less than 2 minutes remaining. However, there was still one more play for Kentucky and that was all they needed.
There's no way to spin it. The secondary was awful and they'd tell you that. While Hartline is a great quarterback, the Gamecocks allowed him to have his way going 32-for-42 with a career-high 349 yards and four touchdowns. When they played zone, the receivers found the gaps and sat down for big gains. When they played man-coverage, the receivers were able to get separation and break tackles. Then there was the weekly blown coverage on the final Kentucky play that lost the game. How do you leave Cobb that open on a 4th-and-7 with the game on the line?
Spencer Lanning had a beautiful game as he always does. Twice he had to punt deep in Gamecock territory and got off two beauties. He punted it four times for an average 44.2 yards and a long of 51. The Gamecocks did a fairly decent job of coverage on kicks and a great job on punt coverage, with Cobb finishing with a total of -5 yards. Unfortunately, the punt returning was horrible. Stephon Gilmore had a nice 19-yard return early in the game. However, he fumbled a punt inside the 10 that was recovered by Kentucky that led to a field goal. He muffed another one late in the game, picked it up, went 8 yards the wrong way, and was tackled at the 5-yard line.
Let's start with defense. The Gamecocks came in with a great gameplan and executed well in the first half, limiting the ‘Cats to 170 total yards and 10 points. However, the ‘Cats made the halftime adjustments and the Gamecocks had no answer. There seemed to be no adjustments to what Kentucky was doing and the Gamecock defense made them look like the Indianapolis Colts. I would be shocked if we don't see some kind of changes in the secondary or play calling against Vanderbilt.
Offensively, the Gamecocks looked unstoppable in the first half. The moved up and down the field at will and Kentucky could not stop Lattimore. Then Lattimore went down and it went all downhill. After the Lattimore injury the Gamecock offense went down the drain. Prior to the final drive, the Gamecocks had a total of 28 yards and two first downs prior to the final drive. Then there was the fact that you only ran the ball five times total after Lattimore's injury and Kenny Miles was nowhere to be found.
That all could have been forgotten if not for the final sequence of events to end the game. The Gamecocks are moving down the field in a hurry and Gurley has an 18-yard completion down to the Kentucky 20-yard line. He gets out of bounds like all receivers are taught to do in that situation to stop the clock with 11 seconds and the Gamecocks have one timeout remaining. The Gamecocks could go for the end zone, but still have somebody coming across the middle. If the end zone is covered, you dump it off across the middle and call a timeout to give Lanning an easier kick. Instead you waste your final timeout to make sure everyone's on the same page. Why wouldn't everyone be on the same page at that point? You've still got 40 seconds to get everyone on the same page before a delay of game penalty. So now Kentucky knows you have to go to the end zone.
Then, there's "the play." It's hard to fault Spurrier for going for the win. You always go for the win on the road. With the way the Kentucky offense was playing and how horrible the Gamecock offense had played had played in the second half, there's a good chance you lose the game in OT anyway. So go ahead and take a shot with a "safe" play. The fade is pretty safe. You know Jeffery is going to be double-teamed. I get that. No offense to Lamar Scruggs, but why? You have two other experienced, big bodies in Tori Gurley and Jason Barnes to throw it up to. If you want to go with speed, you have Sanders on the sidelines. In Scruggs' defense, it wasn't his fault at all. He ran the right route and the ball was underthrown. But it was unfair to put a redshirt freshman with two career catches - including his catch earlier in the game - when you have more experience guys in Gurley and Barnes.
Then throw in two delay of game calls, with one being on the opening play of the game.
All week, the letdown excuse was flying around. You jump on a team 28-10 and that excuse flies out the window. This was just a complete meltdown. The Gamecocks were in position to get some breathing room between themselves and the rest of the SEC East with the Gators' loss to Mississippi State. The Gamecocks are still in good position in the East and has the same lead it had following the Alabama game. However, that does very little to ease the sting of Saturday's loss.
Earning the Grade: Kentucky
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