Hopefully, the Gamecocks didn’t get too used to playing at Williams-Brice Stadium because they are back on the road again.
We take a closer look at the matchup taking place between South Carolina and Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in Lexington:
When South Carolina is on offense …
The biggest question has been answered now. Brandon McIlwain will start against Kentucky, marking the first time the USC starting quarterback has been known going into a game this season.
Looking at the matchup with Kentucky, McIlwain would be the better option regardless. His running ability presents major challenges for a Kentucky run defense that has been one of the worst in the nation through three games. That brings us to the most important question for the Gamecocks: Can the ground game get going behind this offensive line?
When USC is on offense, winning up front is going to decide the game, as something has to give. Kentucky is giving up 243 yards per game on the ground, while South Carolina is averaging only 90.7 offensively.
David Williams made progress against East Carolina and A.J. Turner has the speed and ability to make plays. So what will the big guys in the trenches do with the same starting lineup in back-to-back games for the first time this year?
If things don’t go well, expect to see more McIlwain runs to the edges and maybe some of the sweeps with Randrecous Davis that were shown last Saturday.
Key matchup: South Carolina offensive line vs. Kentucky defensive line
Key Gamecock: Mason Zandi
Overall advantage: Push
When South Carolina is on defense …
The tale of South Carolina’s past two weeks varies greatly. Exhibit A: Mississippi State used a more run-focused spread to shred the South Carolina defense, which struggled to tackle. Exhibit B: ECU threw all day on South Carolina, but the Gamecocks held strong to their bend-and-don’t-break approach.
Kentucky leans more to Mississippi State’s style, especially with Stephen Johnson at quarterback in place of the injured Drew Barker. He can run and he will run. Boom Williams will get the ball.
The UK offense has not had a lot of trouble scoring points, and it clicked with Johnson in the second half against New Mexico State.
The safety rotation is going to matter against the Wildcats, as the tackling performance in the secondary was mediocre at best against Mississippi State. The players that practiced well this week will start, but the players that tackle well Saturday will see the most snaps. But if the front seven can play well, not as much tackling in space will be required from the safeties.
So how much growth has South Carolina made in two weeks? How much confidence do the Gamecocks have after some impressive red-zone stops against ECU? Saturday brings another good spread offense to test the Gamecocks.
Key matchup: South Carolina linebackers vs. Kentucky rushing attack
Key Gamecock: T.J. Holloman
Overall advantage: Kentucky