Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 1-3 ATS) at No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks (4-1, 4-0 ATS) Williams Brice Stadium Columbia, S.C. Saturday October 10th, 12:30PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Kentucky +11.5/South Carolina -11.5
The No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks finally broke into the Top 25 this week credit to their 4-1 start that included a big upset over Mississippi two weeks ago. The Gamecocks took care of business last week against Division II opponent South Carolina State 38-14 and now turn focus back to the SEC when they host the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday afternoon.
The Gamecocks are no surprise to early season success as they hold a 16-5 record in the first 7 games of over the past 3 seasons. However, the Gamecocks have been unable to finish season’s strong going 6-12 in the final 6 games over the past 3 seasons. Normally this is the time of the year South Carolina gives in to the brutal SEC schedule, but if Coach Steve Spurrier is truly going to start contending for an SEC Title the Gamecocks must finish the year like they have started.
The Kentucky Wildcats have yet to score a conference victory this season, but they have taken on likely the two best SEC opponents in their first two conference losses to Florida and Alabama. The Wildcats played Alabama fairly well early in the game last week before the Crimson Tide pulled away to a 38-20 victory. The Wildcats now embark on a very difficult two game road trip that includes meetings with No. 25 South Carolina this week followed by No. 17 Auburn.
If the Wildcats are to score an SEC victory during the first half of the season, they are going to have to pull of an upset. The problems for Kentucky have not been simple to diagnose. The Wildcats scoring offense ranks next to last in the SEC averaging 25 points per game and their scoring defense ranks 3rd worse allowing 26.5 points per game. Although the statistics are not convincing, the Wildcats will have an opportunity for an upset early Saturday.
Early games have always been subject to upsets in the SEC and this week will be no different. South Carolina struggled in the first half against inferior teams like Florida Atlantic and South Carolina State. The reason is the offense. The offense production is better than they were a year ago, but still lacks explosiveness. QB Stephen Garcia is a work in progress in just his sophomore season, but has really improved in limiting bad passes. Garcia threw 8 interceptions in limited action last season, but has only thrown 2 as a starter this season.
Still, Garcia and the passing game have not had a lot of big plays to threaten defenses. The passing game has just 1 play over 45 yards this season and Garcia is averaging just over 200 yards per game. Luckily for the Gamecocks, they have had more success on the ground this year. Freshmen Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles have a bright future in Columbia. Both backs are carrying a stout 6.0 yards per carry despite being limited to just 67 carries combined. However if the offensive line continues to improve, these talented freshmen’s numbers are sure to climb rather significantly.
The Gamecocks defense remains the strength of the team as they did in 2008
ranking 13th overall in the country. Despite losing many starters, the defense
has remained strong allowing just 16.8 points per game. LB Eric
Norwood is among the most electrifying defensive players in the
country. Norwood who leads South Carolina all-time in both sacks and tackles
for loss has been extremely impressive this season. Norwood leads the SEC
with 6 sacks already this season and also leads the SEC in tackles for loss
The Gamecocks star linebacker also has 2 picks, blocked punt, and blocked field goal this season to prove his big play ability. However, the entire defensive front for South Carolina is very strong and they are tied with Alabama for most sacks in the SEC with 15 total. If the defense comes up big like they did against Ole Miss, Kentucky chances for an upset will be diminished. However, the defense has appeared vulnerable at times this season especially against the run so perhaps the Wildcats can find some room to run.
The Wildcats offense is led by junior quarterback Mike Hartline. Hartline has provided very little success in the passing game averaging near a conference worse 163 yards per game. Those passing numbers are scary considering Hartline will face the toughest secondary they have seen to date from the Gamecocks who ranked 2nd overall in 2008 and are only allowing 150 per game this season. Kentucky main success when they have had success has come by way of the ground. Tailbacks Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith are both averaging just over 4 yards per carry, but have only found the end zone 3 times on the season. Still, these two running backs will be a key into keeping the Wildcats in the ball game. However, considering the offenses overall production they are going to need their defense to force some turnovers as well.
Jay’s Pick - The Wildcats stayed close to Alabama for much of the game despite 4 turnovers last week. Early games are scary for South Carolina and due to a lack of points by either offenses, Kentucky should keep the game in within the spread.