Grading the Keys to Victory: Kentucky
I. Limit the Bad Plays
With the exception of a fumble on their opening drive, the Gamecocks protected the ball well throughout the game. Quarterback Chris Smelley made some good throws and some bad ones, but didn't put the ball in jeopardy for the most part. The Gamecocks' offensive line, however, will still need to improve as there were too many negative plays on offense. Smelley was sacked five times, and the offense also had trouble picking up yardage on first down, which left them in longer second and third down situations.
II. Contain Rafael Little
Rafael Little rushed for 135 yards on 25 carries, while Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke combined for another 71 yards. The Gamecocks will need to continue to improve their run defense, but it is important to remember the 157 yards they gave up were still well below the No. 2 rushing offense in the SEC's average. Kentucky's offense featured a great balance so the defense could not sell out against the run as they did against Mississippi State. While the yards surrendered will need to improve down the stretch, the defense did what they needed to do, limiting the big play and keeping Rafael Little out of the end zone.
III. Pressure Woodson
The Gamecocks made the Heisman-hopeful quarterback look uncomfortable, forcing an interception and two fumbles while sacking him three times. Both of Woodson's fumbles led to Eric Norwood touchdowns, and a Captain Munnerlyn interception came in the red zone as Kentucky was driving. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix called a masterful game, and his defense made the plays when they needed to. Woodson still had too much time on some throws, but while he looked poised in big games against Louisville and Arkansas, he never could find a rhythm against the swarming Gamecock front-seven and No. 1 ranked pass defense in the nation.
IV. Rack up the yards with Cory Boyd and Mike Davis
The Gamecocks should have had room to run against the nation's 103rd ranked rushing defense, but that was not the case. Boyd and Davis were able to combine for 119 yards, but the offensive line did not consistently open up holes for them. Though neither would admit it, both Boyd and Davis were banged up last week and may not have been 100% yet. Halfway through the season and offensive line coach John Hunt still may not have found his best five players on the line. Spurrier alluded to more changes being made during his weekly SEC teleconference.
V. Make the Play
The Gamecocks did what good teams do in big games, making big play after big play. After freshman tight end Weslye Saunders fumbled out of the end zone on what would have been a 50-yard catch and run for touchdown, the South Carolina defense wasted little time in saving the talented newcomer from his mistake. On second down, defensive tackle Jonathan Williams knifed into the backfield and forced a Woodson fumble that the opportunistic Norwood promptly recovered for the game's first touchdown. It was the first big play of a career day for Norwood, in which he tied an NCAA record with two fumble returns for touchdown. Norwood also recorded five tackles, including a tackle for loss, and batted down two passes.
Norwood and Williams were not the only defensive players making plays, as safety Emanuel Cook had an active day too. Cook was once again all over the field, making big tackles and breaking up would-be pass completions. He would also lead the team in tackles with nine. Overshadowed by Norwood and Cook's performance was Captain Munnerlyn's seven-tackle day. Munnerlyn made one of the biggest plays of the day when he intercepted a Woodson pass at the goal line and returned it 38 yards.
While the defense ruled the day, the South Carolina offense made plays when it needed to. The biggest of these was Cory Boyd's 27 yard catch and run for touchdown with 3:28 to go that put Kentucky away for good. The offense continued its recent trend of finishing games strongly by putting opponents away when the opportunity is there.
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