South Carolina and Kentucky will open up their SEC schedules on Saturday when the two teams face off at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
Both teams are coming off season-opening victories with the Gamecocks barely edging North Carolina, 17-13, and the Wildcats topping Louisiana-Lafayette, 40-33.
The Wildcats pulled out a 45-38 upset victory over the Gamecocks last season thanks to a 6-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bud Dupree with just over two minutes remaining in the game. It was just Kentucky’s second win over South Carolina in their last 15 contests.
Saturday’s game has the makings of a close one, as neither team really turned heads in their season openers. Here are some storylines to keep your eyes on before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff:
What will we see from Connor Mitch?
South Carolina sophomore Connor Mitch started his first game at quarterback last week, and he certainly looked like an inexperienced signal-caller. Mitch went 9 for 22 with 122 yards and a touchdown, with his longest completion going for 17 yards. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by junior Perry Orth after a hard sack forced him out of the game with a hip pointer injury. Orth completed both of his passes in his limited playing time.
Mitch looked uncomfortable in the pocket in his first game, and will need to improve upon his stats if the Gamecocks are going to avoid a second straight loss to Kentucky. If the struggles continue early, don’t be surprised if coach Steve Spurrier makes a change at quarterback.
Can Kentucky win a road game?
This is actually kind of hard to believe. The Wildcats come into this game with a 22-game road losing streak dating back to 2010. Kentucky’s last road win came on Sept. 4, 2010 against Louisville, and the Wildcats haven’t won an away SEC game since Nov. 21, 2009 against Georgia. You would think with a road game coming against Vanderbilt every two years that Kentucky would have picked up an away victory by now, but that’s not the case. It will be tough to break the streak this week as Williams-Brice Stadium is known for its rowdy atmosphere.
Who is going to step up at wide receiver for South Carolina?
Maybe it’s not fair to put all the blame on Mitch. Spurrier has said this week that he needs some guys to get open for his first-year starter, and that’s evident by looking at South Carolina’s stat line from week 1. Brandon Wilds, a running back, led the Gamecocks in receiving against North Carolina, hauling in four catches for 44 yards. Pharoh Cooper, who was a 2014 First-team All-SEC selection, is South Carolina’s go-to receiver, but he caught only three passes in the first game. Expect more from him going forward, but after Cooper, the Gamecocks don’t have another proven option in the passing game. The Gamecocks will need more from freshman Deebo Samuel and senior tight end Jerell Adams.
Can Kentucky stop the run?
For all this talk about how poor South Carolina’s passing game is, it does boast a stout rushing attack. The Gamecocks ran the ball 47 times for 254 yards in the season opener, with four different players collecting over 40 rushing yards. Kentucky gave up 247 rushing yards to a weak Louisiana-Lafayette team, and ranks last in the SEC in rushing defense. The Wildcats also finished last season ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 191.17 yards per game on the ground. South Carolina is going to try and establish the run, and Kentucky needs to be ready.
Can the Gamecocks stop Patrick Towles?
South Carolina will be without starting cornerback Chris Lammons, who twisted his knee while breaking up a pass in practice this week. Junior Rico McWilliams and sophomore Al Harris Jr. are expected to start on Saturday, both of whom have plenty of experience. Lammons’ injury comes at an inopportune time, as the Wildcats travel to Columbia with a strong passing attack led by junior quarterback Patrick Towles. The Kentucky signal-caller threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ season opener. Towles threw for 208 yards and a touchdown against the Gamecocks last season.