Kentucky Blues. On October 7, 2000, South Carolina eked out a 20-17 win over Kentucky in Lexington. That began a run of ten straight and 13 out of 14 victories over the Wildcats for USC. (Strangely, the only loss was during the Gamecocks’ SEC East title season in 2010.) Some years during that run the Gamecocks were a little bit better than Kentucky, and some years they were a LOT better than Kentucky. But there was no question during the Holtz and Spurrier years that South Carolina was a better PROGRAM than Kentucky. Better players, better teams, better recruiting, pretty much better everything.
And that’s the way it should be, right? The universe decided long ago Kentucky was going to be elite at basketball, and football would forever be relegated to being a second-rate opponent worthy of scheduling for homecoming. As USC fans, we decided Kentucky should be a dub roughly 13 out of every 14 years for all eternity.
But in 2013 UK turned their program over to Mark Stoops, an uninspired hire that felt like they were simply scraping the bottom of the Stoops brothers barrel hoping for a little magic. As it turns out – while they haven’t exactly built a title contender up in Lexington – Stoops continues to field teams that are a royal pain the butt for USC. How much of a pain in the butt? After Saturday’s 16-10 loss to UK, Carolina has now dropped seven of its last eight to the ‘Cats.
There was a lot of excitement and anticipation going into Saturday night, and rightfully so. Hope springs eternal, and the fightin’ Shane Beamers had given us no reason to NOT expect an early statement victory over a middling SEC team.
Alas, it turns out middling SEC teams play pretty good football, especially against teams coming off a 2-6 season with a new head coach and a ton of unproven players on both sides of the football. The Wildcats had hosses along both lines of scrimmage, playmakers on the edge, and a bulldozer disguised as a running back. Even when they tried to give us the game, we couldn’t take it from them.
As much as it pains me to say, at this point in time Kentucky has a better football program than we do. And until we start beating them again, we should stop looking down our noses like we’ve beaten them 13 out of the last 14.
Scatterfield. What happens when you can’t pass, catch, run or score? You become statistically the worst offensive team in the SEC. (I’m currently not counting Vanderbilt as a team in the SEC for obvious reasons.) Take away the opening game victory over Region 4-AAAA Eastern Illinois (or was it Eastern Iowa? Or Eastern Indiana?) and the Gamecocks are averaging a measley two touchdowns per game.
I don’t have to tell you savvy readers, but scoring two TDs per game in this day and age is pretty…hmmm, what’s the word here…oh yeah, pathetic. I know, I know, one game was against Georgia, a team that basically has an NFL defense. And one was against Kentucky, which has, um, potentially an NFL player or two. And one game was against East Caroli…ok I quit. Pathetic was the right word.
So what’s the problem? Well, a lot of it is players who can’t make plays either because they’re simply not good enough or because they’re hurt (more on that later). A much more frightening possibiity is that Marcus Satterfield simply isn’t very good at his job. Based on some interactions this weekend a few of you have aleady come to that conclusion. I’m not there yet, and probably won’t get there soon based on the fact nobody would be a good offensive coordinator with that offensive line, a hobbled QB, running backs who aren’t living up to their billing, and for some reason a couple of our receivers are playing with oven mitts on their hands.
Of course there’s this to make you feel better:
Wounded Walking. Something I have to continue to remind myself is how playing with and/or recovering from injuries can impact a player. I’ve been disappointed we haven’t seen the explosive MarShawn Lloyd this season that we were all expecting. But even when cleared to play, players coming back from an ACL, particularly running backs, often aren’t the same for two years.
Everyone keeps saying Kevin Harris doesn’t look the same, and he doesn’t. Twice on Saturday night he was stonewalled by a guy his size or smaller that he would have steamrolled last season. He had a mysterious back procedure in the preseason that must have been worse than we’ve been told.
And then there’s the case of Luke Doty. There was fear that Doty had broken his foot in preseason practice, but then we were told it was a sprain and he would be back early in the season. But now it turns out…his foot was broken!
Last year Luke was more of a “reckless abandon” kind of guy, but he’s obviously not running well and is ducking out of bounds as soon as possible when he does run. Now we know why.
So when three of your top weapons are not close to 100%, that’s a pretty big contributor to why your offense might not be clicking.
Scatterfield Part Deux. Marcus Satterfield last week said you can’t get a running back in a good rhythm when he has to share the field with three other guys, and he promised to scale back the running back rotation. The casualties were ZaQuandre White, who got zero carries and I think zero snaps at running back, and Lloyd, who got one snap and one carry if my eyes didn’t deceive me.
The biggest surprise of the season continues to be Juju McDowell, who doesn’t really care who he has to compete with for playing time, he just makes plays.
Those types of dudes we need, you know.
To go or not to go. So real quick – down 13-7 in the fourth quarter, you have fourth and medium or you can kick a 40-something-yard field goal to cut the lead to 13-10. You go for it, you don’t make it, Kentucky drives down and kicks a field goal to make it a two score game with four minutes and change left to essentially seal the game.
So for me, and I’m not saying I’m 100% right, I’m kicking the field goal. You extend the game and put pressure on Kentucky to play perfect football. Not making that fourth down conversion was also demoralizing, as was Chris Rodriguez picking up eight yards per carry on the way to that game clinching field goal for the Wildcats.
“But we had the right call on fourth down and the ball hit him right in the chest.” Right, and he dropped it. If you go for it, you have to be sure you have the players who can execute and ensure you get a first down. When you don’t have playmakers (and for the most part we don’t) that’s the risk you take.
“But we still lost by six so that field goal wouldn’t have mattered any way.” You can’t assume the game would’ve played out exactly the same way, because it wouldn’t have. Maybe Kentucky fumbles the ensuing kickoff and we recover. Maybe Kentucky returns the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Maybe, maybe, maybe. You have to make the decision in the moment, and we made the wrong decision.
Wait, did I just say I was 100% right? Oops!
What’s next. A 3:30 pm game against a Troy Trojans team we should whip soundly…hopefully. And hopefully we’ll find some offensive weapons we can depend on.
So let’s just kick their butts and get ready for Tennessee shall we?