While Week 2 proved to be a tougher challenge than expected for Kentucky, it wasn’t for SEC Country writers Joe Mussatto and Kyle Tucker.
Joe went a perfect 5-0 with his Week 2 predictions; Kyle went 4-1. The only miss was Kyle saying Benny Snell would rush for more than 125.5 yards. Snell finished with 103 yards.
Kentucky predictions: Southern Miss | Eastern Kentucky
Now, things ramp up exponentially, both for the Wildcats and for these two SEC Country sharks. Kentucky faces South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday in a game with huge SEC East implications.
Here are the updated standings:
Joe Mussatto: 8-2
Kyle Tucker: 6-4
Kentucky-South Carolina predictions, game spread
Lynn Bowden receptions: O/U 1.5
Joe: Under. From all indications, Bowden was set to play a big role last week had he not been ejected. There’s no reason to think Eddie Gran won’t have plans for him against South Carolina. Quarterback Stephen Johnson said there are plays set up just for him. But saying all of that, it still might take some time to incorporate Bowden as a receiver. I think him producing out of the wildcat is a more likely scenario. Bowden hadn’t played receiver before coming to Kentucky and it’s difficult to envision him being a big part of the passing game in his first real action. Look for some trickery around him though. Maybe a pass out of the wildcat?
Kyle: Under. I kind of feel like he’ll be used more in the return game and as a runner — perhaps taking direct snaps out of the suddenly hated wildcat — at least early on. Remember, he still doesn’t have a single offensive touch in college. As a former high school quarterback and more elusive runner than powerhouse Benny Snell, Bowden could give UK a new wrinkle out of that formation, which so far has stalled this season.
Deebo Samuel return touchdowns: O/U 0.5
Joe: Under. The odds just don’t work in the favor of another touchdown return, but then again, Deebo Samuel has no regard for probabilities. He’s returned two kickoffs this season, and ended up in the end zone on both. Kentucky’s kickoff coverage was leaky last week, so maybe Samuel can keep his perfection alive.
Kyle: Under. He had 97-yard kickoff return touchdowns against both N.C. State and Missouri to open the season, and Kentucky ranks 113th nationally in opposing kickoff return average. But it is really rare for a player to break one in three consecutive games. Three total kick-return touchdowns led the nation for all of 2016. Only eight FBS players in the last four seasons have had three or more. The Wildcats have allowed only one kickoff return touchdown in their last 27 games — none in their last 19.
Benny Snell carries: O/U 15.5
Joe: Over. Snell is averaging 19.5 carries through Kentucky’s first two games and I think controlling the clock with the run game will be imperative Saturday. Snell no longer is splitting carries with Boom Williams or Jojo Kemp, and until the staff trusts Sihiem King or A.J. Rose to shoulder some of the load, Snell is going to accumulate a ton of carries. The only factor working against a heavy workload against South Carolina might be his health. He bruised his ribs against Eastern Kentucky and Mark Stoops called it a “pain tolerance” issue. He might not be at 100 percent.
Kyle: Over. He got 20 in the opener, 19 in Week 2, and finally hit his sophomore stride in the second half against Eastern Kentucky. He rushed for 100 yards in the final two quarters. Snell has gotten at least 14 carries in 10 of 13 games he’s played at UK and has gotten 16-plus eight times. Missouri’s Damarea Crockett, a breakout freshman like Snell last fall, ran 18 times for 97 yards against South Carolina last week.
More passing yards: Stephen Johnson or Jake Bentley?
Joe: Jake Bentley. I’m going with the South Carolina quarterback, but it’s crazy how similar the stats are between Bentley and Johnson. Bentley has passed for 402 yards, Johnson has passed for 400 yards. Johnson has completed 61.9 percent of his passes compared to Bentley’s 61.4 completion percentage. Bentley has a 4-2 advantage in passing touchdowns, but Johnson has yet to throw an interception. I think Kentucky’s offense, per usual, will center on running the ball. Bentley has thrown the ball seven more times per game than Johnson has this season.
Kyle: Stephen Johnson. Albeit it a small sample size for the sophomore, Bentley has only thrown for more than 254 yards once in his career (390 against South Florida in a bowl game last season). Johnson threw for 292-plus three times last fall. The two QBs basically are tied through two games this season: 402 yards for Bentley, 400 for Johnson. But the latter seemed to have a fire lit under him last week when backup Drew Barker stepped in for two series with the game against EKU still in doubt. He was 8 of 13 for 194 yards, rushed for 25 yards and delivered 2 touchdowns from the 2:26 mark in the second quarter.
Kentucky (+6.5) at South Carolina
Joe: Kentucky’s struggles in Week 1 can be forgiven. The Wildcats went on the road and beat a team they couldn’t beat at home last season, but the progress I thought they’d make in Week 2 wasn’t there. UK could’ve used the EKU game as a tuneup to iron out things ahead of South Carolina, but instead the Cats found themselves in a struggle just to win the game. On the other hand, South Carolina notched a quality win in Week 1 against N.C. State and blew out Missouri on the road last Saturday. Kentucky has won three straight in the series, but 2015 was the first time the Cats won in Columbia since 1999. That 2015 South Carolina team finished 3-9, 1-7 in the SEC. This one is much better. South Carolina 30, Kentucky 17.
Kyle: Think this is a close one, but the Wildcats rarely have beaten anyone in the SEC four times in a row — like, in their history (which I wrote about this week) — and the Gamecocks look like a resurgent program in Year 2 under Will Muschamp. While USC has two impressive wins, nothing about UK’s stumbling victories over Conference USA and FCS opponents suggests it is ready to win a league game on the road. South Carolina 27, Kentucky 24.