The Daily Gamecock

Column: What South Carolina needs to do to end losing streak against Kentucky

On Saturday, Sept. 28, South Carolina and Kentucky will meet at Williams-Brice Stadium on Family Weekend. 

This matchup will be each teams’ fifth game of the season and will undoubtedly affect bowl game chances for both teams, as both are looking to clear the six-win threshold and become bowl eligible. 

A look at Kentucky

After the loss of leading rusher Benny Snell Jr. to the Pittsburgh Steelers by way of the NFL draft over the offseason, the Kentucky Wildcats have not performed as strongly in the running game. They are down almost 10 rush yards per game from last season.

This will be the key to the game on Saturday. The Wildcats present a balanced, one-two punch in the running game by way of Kavosiey Smoke and Asim Rose. Both running backs have logged at least 30 carries, and the two have combined for almost 80% of Kentucky’s rushing yards for the season.

Kentucky, however, has struggled early in the season to use the run game to milk the clock once it has the lead. The Wildcats were unable to hold possession and run the clock late in their game against No. 9 Florida. The Gators eventually came back and defeated the Wildcats 29-21.

A look at South Carolina

South Carolina comes into the game looking to add a conference victory to boost its standing in the SEC East. The Gamecock defense, which looked strong in the first half against Alabama but was exposed in the second half of both the Alabama and UNC games, will have to execute better. 

If the Gamecock defense can stifle the Wildcats' running attack, then Kentucky will be less comfortable reverting to the pass game, where South Carolina’s defense has struggled, allowing over 300 passing yards per game. 

The Gamecocks' cornerbacks and safeties must in turn slow the production of Kentucky’s offensive passing attack to get off the field on third down. 

This will give the offense and freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, an opportunity to recreate the offensive brilliance from South Carolina’s first home game against Charleston Southern, where the offense put up a school-record 775 yards of total offense. 

This production was sparked chiefly by Hilinski, as well as senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards and a talented crew of Gamecock running backs led by senior running back Rico Dowdle. 

This mesh of experience and young talent has led to consistent offensive production over Hilinski’s first few career starts and Gamecock fans hope that this trend continues. 

Final Prediction 

I believe the combination of Parent’s Weekend and this being the first night home game with a 7:30 kickoff of the season for the Gamecocks will lead to a statement win early in the recently founded Hilinski era. 

I think the defense will step up late in a close, back and forth game, and South Carolina’s offensive firepower will carry them to a 35-31 victory.