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Kentucky Fails to Deliver in South Carolina

September 28, 2019
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A warm night in Columbia quickly turned sour as the Kentucky offense failed to make an appearance. Totaling just 212 yards and 9 first downs, the Cats dropped their third straight conference game, this one with a final score of 24-7. Next week’s bye comes at a good time as the coaches emphasized the need to fix execution errors and get healthy post-game. 

Kentucky’s night, in a similar fashion to the last two, was marred by unforced errors and a lack of offensive identity and rhythm. An injured Sawyer Smith at quarterback was unable to connect with open receivers and a lack of success in their ground game forced the coaches into leaning on the inconsistent passing game. Kentucky will look to get back to basics and fix the mistakes that cost them the first three conference games during the upcoming bye week.

First Quarter

South Carolina got off to a hot start, marching down the field in 3:51 led by the arm of Ryan Hilinski who completed 5 of his 6 passes on the drive before Tavien Feaster punched the ball in for the touchdown. 

The Gamecocks’ quick start continued when Kentucky’s offense took the field, this time in the form of an interception of Sawyer Smith’s second pass of the game near midfield. This time, however, South Carolina was unable to capitalize. The Gamecocks punted back to the Wildcats after gaining only nine yards despite their favorable field position.

South Carolina’s first drive proved to be the outlier early, as both teams settled into a stalemate for the remainder of the first quarter. Kentucky, after holding South Carolina to 9 yards, managed only 7 of their own before punting back to South Carolina.

The luck turned in Kentucky’s direction, however, as Duffy’s punt bounced off a South Carolina player and Kentucky recovered the live ball. The Cats started the drive on South Carolina’s 39-yard line, but were unable to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs after picking up 8 yards in 4 plays. 

South Carolina’s next drive netted seven yards, as did Kentucky’s drive after that, both of which were 3-and-outs. South Carolina got the ball back with 1:22 to play in the first quarter and moved 17 yards in 3 plays on the legs of Tavien Feaster to close out the quarter.

 

Second Quarter

South Carolina’s drive continued into the second quarter, totaling 62 yards and resulting in a 26-yard field goal that gave the Gamecocks a 10-0 lead. 

Kentucky’s offense continued to flail, gaining just 2 yards on three passing attempts by Smith before punting. As much as the offense struggled, the defense continued to keep the Cats in the game, slowing down South Carolina’s offense and forcing punts. The first half came to a close after two more punts by South Carolina and one more by Kentucky. The halftime score stood at 10-0 despite a yardage differential of 225 for USC to 78 for UK. South Carolina also dominated Kentucky in time of possession, holding onto the ball for 19:09 versus Kentucky’s 10:51.

 

Third Quarter

Kentucky got the ball to start the second half and came out throwing, but a strip-sack of Sawyer Smith gave South Carolina the ball quickly and on Kentucky’s 30-yard line. The Gamecocks capitalized immediately as Rico Dowdle ran it in from 30 yards out for the touchdown, giving South Carolina 17-0 lead. 

Kentucky’s next drive resulted in a net of four yards before another Max Duffy punt. South Carolina’s momentum came to a grinding halt once again as they moved 6 yards before punting back to the Cats. The third quarter unfolded in much the same way as the second with the Gamecocks and Cats trading punts. Kentucky had one sustained drive that went 42 yards thanks to a long catch by Ahmad Wagner but turned the ball over on downs.

 

Fourth Quarter

The theme of the night was defense, as the punting contest continued into the fourth quarter. After an early stalled drive by each, South Carolina once more found their rhythm, going 85 yards in 7 plays for another Tavien Feaster touchdown, extending the Gamecock lead to 24-0. 

On Kentucky’s ensuing drive Smith threw two incomplete passes before being sacked on third down. Already nursing a shoulder injury, Smith went to the sideline when the Kentucky offense came back on the field after a South Carolina punt. Lynn Bowden took over at quarterback, engineering an 84-yard drive in 5 plays during the last 5 minutes of the game. His opening pass was caught by Josh Ali for a 9 yard gain before the Cats went to the ground, alternating between runs by Bowden and Chris Rodriguez to move down the field. Rodriguez broke off a 44-yard run right off, moving UK well into South Carolina territory where they inched closer before Rodriguez scored on a 2-yard run, avoiding the shutout. 

With the score 24-7, South Carolina ran out the clock for the last 2 minutes to bring a close to a game dominated by defense and punting. Kentucky narrowly avoided its first shutout under head coach Mark Stoops thanks to Rodriguez’s late score.

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Kentucky Fails to Deliver in South Carolina

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