The Daily Gamecock

Behind enemy bylines: Mistakes are biggest factor ahead of Kentucky football game, Kentucky Kernel sports editor says

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) throws a pass during the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss won 22-19.
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) throws a pass during the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss won 22-19.

After back-to-back home wins against non-conference opponents, the South Carolina Gamecocks 3-2 (0-2 SEC) will travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to take on the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats 4-1 (1-1 SEC) on Saturday. 

The Daily Gamecock spoke with Cole Parke, the sports editor of Kentucky's student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, to preview the Gamecocks’ return to SEC play.

The Wildcats have won all three of its home games so far this season, while South Carolina fell to then-No. 16 Arkansas in its only road contest to this point. 

The Daily Gamecock: What is the atmosphere within the Kentucky program coming off a tough road loss to a ranked Ole Miss team?

Cole Parke: "The spirits were a lot higher than many would have expected after the game. ... There was a lot of very costly mistakes in that game. And I think that everyone has the vibe that had it not been for those mistakes, they very well could have won that game." 

"(Their goal) is to not let what happened last year happen again, where their first loss turned into three straight."

How do the expectations of the Wildcats’ fanbase right now compare to where they were at the start of the season?

"It's a bit of a seesaw. Before the season, there was a lot of people saying normal predictions, anywhere from 9-3 to 10-2, that kind of thing. ... No one's really, from my experience, giving up on this team. Nobody thinks that the season's over or anything. It's just kind of, maybe they got too hyped and now they're kind of back to more realistic area."

How big of a role do you think turnovers — which really hurt Kentucky against Ole Miss — and protecting the Kentucky quarterback — who has been sacked 19 times already — will play on Saturday?

"I think it plays a role in every game they play. ... It's been every single game this season, so I definitely think it's going to be a factor on Saturday." 

"I imagine South Carolina will probably get a sack or two. (Senior quarterback) Will Levis hasn't thrown an interception in his last two games, but he did throw one in each of his first three. ... It would not surprise me in the slightest if South Carolina scores a touchdown or two from Kentucky making a mistake."

Could you discuss Will Levis’ performance so far this season and also highlight a few other players who will make big impacts on the game?

"Will Levis is definitely a leader of the offense. ... He's been sacked a ton. Four interceptions is not ideal. But he's currently got a three to one touchdown to interception ratio with 12 touchdowns. His rushing yards have not looked as good as they have in previous seasons but that's, like I said, mostly just from getting sacked. Sacks just kill his rushing yards every single game." 

"Other leaders to look out for (in) the running back room: (senior) Chris Rodriguez Jr. is back from suspension. ... He's a very, very integral part of this offense and a big reason why the run game was struggling so much in previous games."

"(Fifth-year Jacquez Jones) describes himself as the quarterback of the defense ... We don't really know whether or not he will play this Saturday. ... But if he does play, Jones has described himself and been described as others as the quarterback of the defense that kind of gets that group in line."

Can you talk about the leadership of head coach Mark Stoops who is now the winningest coach in program history?

"It's very, very telling where this program is right now. I mean, a lot of people didn't pay attention to Kentucky football 10 years ago, and I mean, why would you? Mark Stoops' first season at Kentucky, this team lost 40 to zero to Vanderbilt. You look at that now. 10-3 last season with the bowl win, four straight postseason bowl game wins, two Citrus Bowl wins. That alone speaks for itself." 

"You can definitely tell in the players, they respect Mark Stoops, they like Mark Stoops. ... It was like the first time since the '70s they've been ranked preseason, so I mean that alone — how much of a change he's made in culture and the impact he's had on this program."

What will the Gamecocks bring to the table on Saturday that will give Kentucky the most trouble. What is the X-factor for the Wildcats to right the ship with a win at home?

"A lot of that will be whether or not (Jones) plays, how the defense is able to handle South Carolina. Kentucky very much so has been having a bend-but-don't-break defense this season. ... Some of (Rattler’s) numbers aren't all that great, like the interception ratio. ... (But) he's a good quarterback. You've got good running backs. I see Marshawn Lloyd put up some great numbers in here."

"The key here will be if that offense is able to crack the defense and bend them to the point where they get some breakthrough plays and force them to beat themselves and score some points. ... What I think is going to be the 'X-factor' for Kentucky is really the same thing. It's the offense."

"Now that Rodriguez is back, Kentucky's offense is really good. The sacks are a problem, the turnovers are something you don't want to see, but you just look at the explosive plays that they make 70-yard receptions from (wide receivers) Dane Key and Barion Brown — two freshmen. And then you have transfer (senior) wide receiver Tayvion Robinson, these are players that can make those big plays."

What is your score prediction?

"28-17, Kentucky."