Kentucky did slip up and lose the last two games by fairly large margins, but against Alabama, you could see signs. The biggest problem was turnovers, and controlling turnovers will be a key to Kentucky's next eight games.
Standing at 2-2, the Wildcats defeated Miami University easily before pulling out a close one against Louisville and being handily defeated by the Gators and the Tide. Kentucky comes into the South Carolina game needing a win not only for the record book, but for their confidence.
Quarterback Mike Hartline has been a lightning rod for criticism during his tenure, and it appears to be at an all time high for the Ohio native. Hartline has thrown for only 653 yards this season and five touchdowns. Hartline has also thrown six interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes. Hartline will have to attempt to stretch the field against South Carolina in order for the Wildcat running game to have any chance.
Kentucky's running backs have been beat up early this season with Moncell Allen having a quad injury and now Alfonso Smith having ligament damage in his thumb. Leading rusher Derrick Locke appears healthy and will carry the load for the Wildcats. Lock has 258 yards and two touchdowns rushing for the Wildcats.
Receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews are the main threats for Hartline through the air. Cobb is a do-everything type of player who may line up on the outside, in the slot, in the backfield or at quarterback. Chris Matthews' size and speed make him a long ball threat at any time. The Wildcats most experienced receiver will also be back for the game in Columbia. Kyrus Lanxter, who has shown flashes of being a very good player, will return after missing the last two games.
Kentucky's offensive line will be mostly in tact this weekend. Senior right tackle Justin Jeffries is out with an achilles injury, but Brad Durham who is very experienced as a back up will come in and take his place. The rest of the lineup includes Zipp Duncan at left tackle, Christian Johnson at left guard, Jorge Gonzales at center and Stuart Hines at right guard.
Kentucky will line up in the I-formation, the shotgun, the "Wildcat" package, and three wide. On rare occasions, they will line up with five wide receivers. The Wildcats run a pro-style offense and will try to be close to a 50/50 run/pass team.
The Wildcats will be playing short-handed this week on the defensive side of the ball, as they'll be missing their two starting corners, Trevard Lindley and Paul Warford. Because of this, the defensive line's pass rush will have to be ramped up to a level that it hasn't reached this season.
Four year starter Corey Peters is the leader of the defensive line. Ricky Lumpkin brings experience to the tackle position opposite Peters. At defensive end, the Wildcats have struggled with little experience at the spot. DeQuin Evans has proved to be a solid prospect who can get a pass rush. Collins Ukwu and Chandler Burden both return from last season's team and have had problems against SEC tackles.
At linebacker, Micah Johnson heads up this group. He's the leading tackler this year with 35 total. Sam Maxwell and Danny Trevathan flank Johnson on either side. They are the fourth and fifth leading tacklers, respectively. This is a strong and athletic group, but they struggle in pass coverage. Danny Trevathan will be limited this week after being sick all week and missing practice time. Redshirt freshman Will Johnson will step in and play some of Trevathan's snaps. Johnson provides more speed, but less size to the group.
At corner the Wildcats will start Randall Burden who is normally the third corner and Martavius Neloms, a physical, but inexperienced freshman. Safeties Calvin Harrison and Winston Guy have both been very active. Guy is Kentucky's second leading tackler from the free-safety position and is possibly the most athletic player on the Wildcat defense.
Kentucky lines up in a base 4-3 defense. It's a pretty basic scheme for the most part, not a lot of blitzing. Defensive Coordinator Steve Brown will often leave his corners on an island against receivers. On passing downs, Kentucky brings in nickel back Taiedo Smith and will often move linebacker Danny Trevathan down to defensive end to provide a better pass rush.
Kentucky has struggled on special teams this year. Aside from one long kickoff return by Derrick Locke, kick coverage and kick returning have been average at best. Ryan Tylacka has proved to be a solid replacement for All-SEC punter Tim Masthay (40 ypp). Kentucky has struggled the last couple of seasons in protecting punts, and that reared it's head against Florida as the Wildcats gave up another blocked punt to the Gators.