LEXINGTON, Ky. — South Carolina dropped to 2-2 on the season with a 17-10 loss at Kentucky on Saturday night.
We handed out grades to each of the units, including coaching, after the loss:
Brandon McIlwain’s second start featured a lot of similarities to the first. There were moments of promise and a lot of drives that went nowhere. But it’s not just about the freshman quarterback.
The offense as a whole is sorely missing playmakers. Deebo Samuel missing his second straight game and Randrecous Davis also having a hamstring issue only makes that more apparent. It also is suffering from an offensive line that isn’t winning in the run game or the pass game.
Hayden Hurst (8 catches, 84 yards) and David Williams (9 rushes, 35 yards) were bright spots on an offense still searching for consistency and an identity.
Darius English had probably the best game of his career with three sacks, but his great showing was overshadowed by the poor game overall by the defense.
South Carolina gave up 216 rushing yards to Kentucky, lining up and seeing similar run plays and still not being able to stop them. Boom Williams got the job done early. Benny Snell came in and finished the game with a bruising fourth quarter against the Gamecocks.
The defense is in a tough position with very low margin for error in every game. But they didn’t do enough Saturday and didn’t play winning football.
Mark King also was a notable bright spot, as he forced a fumble early, had a great physical play on the sideline in fighting through a block and had an interception, which was called back for pass interference on Antoine Wilder.
Two critical plays came on special teams for South Carolina. Unfortunately, they were two major negative plays.
English ran into the punter in the second quarter to extend a Kentucky drive. The Wildcats capitalized and hit a field goal at the end of the drive. The biggest error came courtesy of linebacker T.J. Brunson, who committed a block in the back penalty on a punt return.
Rashad Fenton took the punt back for a touchdown, only to have it brought back because of the Brunson penalty, which came behind the play.
Elliott Fry was good on his lone field-goal attempt. Punter Sean Kelly was called upon eight times and he put five of them inside the 20-yard line. But the kicking was not nearly enough to make up for the major miscues that proved costly in a tight game.
I thought South Carolina had two moments it could have done things differently. The first came after King forced a fumble. On third-and-2 at the UK 44, USC called for a toss to A.J. Turner. He gained nothing. USC lined up to go for it, but opted to punt after a Kentucky timeout. The early opportunity to seize momentum was missed.
The latter came in the fourth quarter when USC punted on fourth-and-1 from the Kentucky 49. Will Muschamp explained the decision after the game. He was confident South Carolina would get the ball back with a chance to score. He was right. They got the ball back, but just didn’t do enough to score.
Much of this loss was execution and on-field issues. That outweighed anything the coaches did on the sidelines.
South Carolina just did not play well at Kentucky. There were positive individual performances. There were moments of hope.
But the level of play needs elevating across the board. All things considered, the job Will Muschamp is doing is actually impressive in many ways. The situation is tough to deal with, but the Gamecocks are showing enough signs to think the future can be bright at South Carolina.
It just wasn’t pretty Saturday.