Fall Preview: South Carolina vs. Kentucky

There may have been no more improved SEC team in the second half of last season than the Kentucky Wildcats. UK wiped out a rough start by finishing the season on a 5-1 stretch, including a victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl. They now enter 2007 with an experienced roster and high expectations. Read inside to find out how the Wildcats will match up with USC in their early October showdown.






South Carolina Offensive Line vs. Kentucky Defensive Line

Kentucky will field a defensive line returning half of its starters from a year afo. Team sack leader Myron Pryor returns at defensive tackle with Jeremy Jarmon also returning at defensive end. They will look to improve on a 2006 unit that finished eighth in the conference in sacks and last in rushing yards allowed. New to this year's line will be the young but talented, Corey Peters at defensive tackle and junior Nii Adjei Oninku at defensive end.

The South Carolina offensive line will look to slow down Pryor and Jarmon. Jarmon has good size at 6-6, 268-pounds and will be a worthy challenge for tackles Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorenson. As mentioned in our previous articles, the offensive line should have had some time to come together by this time in the season, and as John Hunt has shown in his first two years at South Carolina, when given time to work he will produce a formidable offensive line.

South Carolina Running Backs vs. Kentucky Linebackers

At linebacker Kentucky returns all three starters, including the leading returning tackler in the SEC, Wesley Woodyard. The former high school safety is undersized at 212-pounds, but has everything a coach could want in a college linebacker. The senior playmaker was also placed on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy which is annually given to the nation's top defensive player. The rest of the unit is comprised of sophomore Sam Maxwell, who passed incumbent starter Johnny Williams in the spring, and junior Braxton Kelley. The experienced group will be the leaders of a defense looking to improve from last year and match the performance of the Kentucky offense.

With Woodyard considered the heart and soul of the Kentucky defense, running back Cory Boyd would have to be considered the heart and soul of the Gamecock offense. With Boyd back for his senior year, the athletic Kentucky linebackers will have a tough time stopping him as he is a threat both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. Spelling Boyd is running back Mike Davis who is a solid SEC back with experience as well. At the recent SEC media days, Spurrier ranked Boyd and Davis up there with some of the best running back tandems he's ever coached, though Davis will need to get off to a much quicker start than he did the last two seasons. The third running back will be either junior scat-back Bobby Wallace or true freshman Brian Maddox. Although Maddox hasn't been discussed in our previous articles, he is a big back and has reportedly been timed as low as the 4.3's in the forty yard dash. While the staff would obviously like to redshirt Maddox , he is another guy from the 2007 recruiting class that may just be too talented to keep off the field.



Running back Cory Boyd rushed for his first career 100 yard game against the Wildcats last season.


South Carolina Wide Receivers vs. Kentucky Secondary

In the secondary, Kentucky returns three of four starters including playmaking strong safety Marcus McClinton. The other safety spot is manned by returning senior Roger Williams. Kentucky is set at one cornerback spot, returning freshman All-American Trevard Lindley, who burst on the scene last year. If Lindley can ward off a sophomore slump with another strong year, he could emerge as one of the premier defenders in the league. The second cornerback spot will likely be filled by sophomore E.J. Adams.

The South Carolina receiving corp should be more settled when the Kentucky game rolls around than it is now. With Kenny McKinley and in a lesser sense Freddie Brown, the only two known commodities, the Gamecock coaches will sort through a bevy of young talent in an effort to find the right combination of playmakers. Positive reports have come from USC's summer workouts that McKinley and sophomore Moe Brown have been leaders and are working hard to bring along the young newcomers. Possibly the most talked about of these newcomers is Independence High School product Jason Barnes, who has taken the inevitable Sidney Rice comparisons in stride and has reportedly impressed his teammates with his excellent hands and body control.

Overall South Carolina Offense vs. Kentucky Defense

The South Carolina offense should be able to put up some points against a Kentucky defense that ranked last in the SEC in total defense a year ago. They will need every last one of those points as they will face what will likely be one of the premier offenses and best passing attacks in the league. If given time, senior quarterback Blake Mitchell should have no problem completing passes on the Kentucky secondary, though he will have to pay attention to the side of the field McClinton is lined up on.

The Gamecock offensive line will need to get to the second level of the defense and get to Woodyard in order to keep him from roaming the field and making plays as he has been known to do. The Gamecock offense will also look to keep the ball out of Andre Woodson's hands by playing some ball control offense and limiting three-and-outs. An often unsung hero in extending Carolina drives is fullback Lanard Stafford. The former walk-on was instrumental last year in the Gamecocks' strong finish and does all the little things right, such as being an outlet for Mitchell when receivers are covered downfield.

Kentucky Offensive Line vs. South Carolina Defensive Line

Kentucky returns the left side of its line with juniors Gary Williams and Christian Johnson starting at tackle and guard, respectively. Johnson was, however, suspended for the entire spring. This was bad news for a line searching for some stability after giving up 39 sacks and producing a running game that ranked last in the SEC a year ago. At center, converted tight end Eric Scott was a huge surprise this spring and will be a big upgrade in the middle of the Kentucky line. The status of the right side is less clear, although there is experience there with junior James Alexander, the likely starter at tackle, and senior Jason Leger the likely starter at right guard. One other note of interest for Gamecock fans is former South Carolina lineman Josh Winchell will be in the Kentucky two deep and could work his way into the starting line up.

The key to stopping any high-powered passing attack is to get pressure on the quarterback. The South Carolina defensive line should be well adept at doing so, as its young defensive linemen will have some experience in the system by then. Many do not realize how good Eric Norwood is and a big game by him would go a long way towards slowing down the Kentucky passing game. Pass rush specialist Cliff Matthews will likely get a lot of playing time because of Kentucky's tendency to pass the football. The former five-star player has what some scouts considered to be one of the quickest first steps in the country in the 2007 recruiting class.

Kentucky Running Backs vs. South Carolina Linebackers

The Kentucky rushing attack is spearheaded by former South Carolina prep standout Rafael Little. Little missed four games early last year, and it wasn't until he returned healthy that the Kentucky running game got on track. Little is not only a homerun threat in the backfield, but also one of the best punt returners in the league. Even with the impressive second half of last season, the Kentucky running game still ranked last in the SEC.

Due to the UK passing game getting all the publicity, it is sometimes forgotten that one of the keys to stopping the Kentucky offense is to stop their ground attack. Early last year the lack of a consistent running game led to blowout losses at the hands of rival Louisville and LSU, so the Gamecocks will look to do the same and force Kentucky to be one dimensional. Even with a passing attack as good as Kentucky's, without a running game to keep defenses honest and control the ball, it is hard to win ball games.

Kentucky Wide Receivers vs. South Carolina Secondary

Kentucky returns an impressive group of wide receivers, led by Keenan Burton who caught 77 balls a year ago. Burton was Kentucky's version of Sidney Rice in their high powered offense, as Andre Woodson's go-to guy and a receiver who can go up and get the ball. If Burton is Kentucky's Sidney Rice, then Dicky Lyons is their Kenny McKinley. Lyons caught 50 balls last year as Kentucky's number two receiver. Demoreo Ford and Steve Johnson caught a combined 24 passes last year and will be expected to play a bigger part in the offense this year. Kentucky's passing game also features one of the best tight ends in the conference as they return senior Jacob Tamme.

South Carolina's secondary will have its hands full attempting to stop Burton and Lyons. More importantly than shutting them down, which isn't likely to happen, will be not to give up the big plays and force Kentucky to earn every yard. The secondary will need help from its front seven. If they can stop the Kentucky running game, then it would allow the Gamecock secondary to operate mostly out of nickel and dime packages which would have them more prepared to stop the Kentucky receivers. The secondary will also need help from the linebackers, as they will need to play well dropping into coverage or Woodson will look to Tamme often.



Wide receiver Keenan Burton was one of the top receivers in the SEC a year ago, totaling 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns.


Overall Kentucky Offense VS South Carolina Defense

The Kentucky offense starts with senior quarterback Andre Woodson. Woodson burst onto the scene last year after making huge strides in the offseason, becoming a complete quarterback who can make all the throws but also doesn't make mistakes. He threw only 7 interceptions to an amazing 31 touchdowns on his way to preseason All-SEC honors. Though Woodson and his receiving corp will get all the publicity, the fate of the Kentucky offense will lie in the hands of the offensive line. If the Kentucky offensive line pass protects well and gives Little room to run, the Wildcats will field the best offense in the league. However, if the offensive line fails to perform consistently, then the Kentucky offense will look very similar to the offense Gamecock fans saw early last year.

There isn't a whole lot the Gamecock defense can throw at Woodson coverage-wise that he hasn't seen before, so Carolina will need to force Woodson into believing he has to win the game on his own. Even then, he isn't likely to make mistakes. If they pressure him, he will probably show a tendency to take sacks due to not being one to force anything, which would then put Kentucky in third and long situations, causing nightmares for a team with protection problems.

Conclusion

Although Kentucky finished ahead of South Carolina in the east last year, South Carolina has won the last seven games in the series. Also while there have been some close games between the teams in Kentucky, when South Carolina has played host, they've won by an average of 22 points a game in that same seven game span. While Kentucky is a team on the rise, South Carolina should be able to get some pressure on Woodson and slow down the Kentucky offense. They should also be settled by this time on offense and should be able to put up some points on a Kentucky defense that was porous at best last year. Steve Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky, and don't expect for it to happen this year.

Keys to Victory

I. Play good red zone defense.

The Kentucky offense is going to move the ball, but it will get tougher for them as they get closer to the end zone and the field condenses. This should magnify any offensive line problems they have, and if the Gamecocks play good defense, they should be able to hold them to field goals rather than touchdowns.

II. Stop the running game.

Although this seems backwards, stopping the Kentucky running game will go a long way towards slowing down their passing game. Stopping Little will make Woodson and his all-star receiver tandem carry the load offensively, becoming one dimensional.

III. Convert in the red zone.

Just as the Gamecock defense needs to limit Kentucky to field goals rather than touchdowns in scoring situations, the Carolina offense will need to convert touchdowns in the red zone in order to outscore a potent Wildcat offense.


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