LEXINGTON, Ky. — Coach Mark Stoops and company Saturday notched their third straight victory over South Carolina in what amounted to a crucial home win for the Wildcats.
The backfield of Benny and Boom stimulated the Commonwealth Stadium crowd, but the night belonged to Kentucky’s defense.
Here’s how we graded the performance.
Freshman RB Benny Snell was a second-half savior and junior RB Boom Williams had 123 yards — 43 of them coming on a big score down the sidelines.
The rushing attack by itself would earn a higher mark but the passing game was void of big plays.
Junior QB Stephen Johnson made his first UK start and the game plan was simple. A medley of short to intermediate passes saw Johnson start 7 of 7. He was ineffective afterward, going 4-for-12 with an interception.
It looked like Kentucky wanted to ease Johnson into things, and with the success of the running game, it became easier to do. But the threat of a big play from the passing game was never there.
Johnson’s best play came on a first down scramble that led to Kentucky’s go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 25, 2016
Where did that come from?
Kentucky held South Carolina to 10 points after giving up 42 points to lowly New Mexico State the week before. Florida and Southern Miss both hung 40 or more on Kentucky, as well.
The Wildcats defense was absent for three weeks but showed up against the Gamecocks. UK held South Carolina to just 268 yards of offense on 2.6 yards per carry. Stopping the run put pressure on freshman QB Brandon McIlwain. That’s just what the Wildcats wanted.
D.J. Eliot’s defense entered the matchup ranked 127th (out of 128 FBS teams) in opponent third down conversion rates. UK was allowing opposing offenses to convert 58 percent of third downs. South Carolina was 3 of 13 (23 percent) on third downs Saturday.
Special teams: B-
Austin MacGinnis recorded his first field goal of the season and the Wildcats coverage teams continued their strong play.
The biggest play on special teams ended up not counting. South Carolina would’ve had a punt return for a touchdown on a low, line drive punt from Grant McKinniss, but the Gamecocks were called for a block in the back penalty.
The punting game wasn’t as strong as it has been for UK, but special teams were good enough.
Stoops needed to beat South Carolina and he did. A lot of pressure was on the head man. He’s no doubt feeling relief.
He was tough on his defense after practice Wednesday, but whatever the coach said and whatever defensive coordinator Eliot dialed up Saturday worked. UK was pressuring the quarterback and its secondary wasn’t giving up the chunk yards like previous games.
Eliot said after the game that all credit goes to the players, but the coaches can share in that as well.
It wasn’t pretty, but it’s what the Wildcats desperately needed.
South Carolina is no Alabama, wait until Saturday and see for yourself. This victory came at an important time. Kentucky would have been facing a 1-4 start had they lost to South Carolina, with the Crimson Tide on deck. That disaster has been averted.