Snap Judgments – 2022 USC @ Kentucky

Photo Credit: Ryan Bethea

Our old Kentucky home. South Carolina won 13 of 14 games against Kentucky from 2000 to 2013. Until last night, Kentucky had repaid that streak by winning 7 of 8 from 2014 to 2021. As middle of the pack SEC teams and similar programs, both streaks were stunning anomolies that didn’t make a lot of sense. Both teams have had ups and downs over the last two decades, but niether’s greatest successes nor deepest slumps would suggest those kinds of win/loss streaks.

Of course, we’ve been on the losing end of the latest streak, and the Wildcats have arguably been the biggest thorn in the side of the Gamecocks as we try to ascend back to the top tier in the SEC East. After all, if we can’t beat Kentucky consistently, how are we supposed to contend with Georgia, Florida and now Tennessee on a regular basis?

Last night’s 24-14 win suggested that perhaps the pendulum is swinging back in our favor. For years the Wildcats have been bigger and stronger than the Gamecocks, pushing us around the way an upper tier SEC team does a lower tier SEC team. But the 2022 edition of USC football refused to let that happen through sheer will and, finally, equal or better talent.

Maybe, possibly, Kentucky has peaked and will begin to slide back to their rightful place in the bottom half of the SEC, allowing us to set our sights on bigger and better things in the conference. If we ever hope to get back to the SEC title game, we first must make sure Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt are in our rearview mirror.

Last night was a step in the right direction.

Play stupid games, get stupid prizes. Mark Stoops was really smelling himself at SEC Media Days this year. In an interview on Marty and McGee he was talking proudly about how he has changed the culture at Kentucky and that’s the reason for their recent, unprecedented success. Unprecedented success that of course includes zero SEC East titles. But I digress.

In the midst of his self back-patting he oddly decided to take a shot at Shane Beamer, a man who knows how to use social media to jazz up his players and fan base. In reference to Gamecock Football’s post where Beamer walks into a room, puts on sunglasses and dances and sings, here’s Stoops:

It’s easy to change a climate. You change a uniform, talk a little game, dance around, put on some stupid sunglasses.

Mark Stoops, speaking on Marty & McGee

Stoops walked the statement back, saying he wasn’t talking about Beamer (not sure who else he could’ve been talking about), and Beamer downplayed the situation as well. But unbeknownst to us, Shane-O tucked that little quip in his back pocket, and after the Gamecocks dispatched the Wildcats 24-14 last night, he went absolutely nuclear on Stoops.

Now I’m not a big believer in bulletin board material and how it impacts what goes on in a 60-minute game. Once the opening whistle is blown and the pads start popping, more often than not coaching and talent take over, weekday trash talk be damned. But in this particular instance, Stoops’ unnecessary comment and Beamer’s response highlight the crusty old coach approach and the new, hip young coach approach.

And the new, hip young coach won this round by knockout.

Marcuspencer Rattlefield. The year 2021 featured perhaps the worst quarterback room at USC since 1999. Not a knock on on the poor young men that were forced into action, but the talent was FCS-level at best. That gave offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield a get-out-of-jail free card when it came to how bad the offense was.

The 2022 season was supposed to be different, with the addition of former Heisman candidate Spencer Rattler, a veteran offensive line, a couple of wide receiver transfers, and a finally healthy MarShawn Lloyd. But the high expectations have not been met to date. After three weeks the team was 13th out of 14 teams in the league in total offense, and a mauling of South Carolina State helped move them up to 11th after week four.

Most of the dissatisfaction has been heaped on Satterfield, his play-calling questioned on a regular basis. Rattler was given a pass the first couple of weeks because of the excitement that surrounded his arrival, but a chorus of naysayers crescendoed during the first half last night due to his inconsistent, and sometimes downright confounding play. (We didn’t say much about Satterfield last night on Twitter, but our frustration with Rattler bubbled over.) The Gamecocks had four opportunities in Kentucky territory in the first half, including one in the red zone, that netted zero points. We can’t win in the SEC like that.

Both men responded with a solid second half that helped us pull away from Kentucky. Satterfield mixed things up, and gave Rattler shorter, safer throws that took advantage of the playmaking skills of Juice Wells and Jalen Brooks. And of course Lloyd was a turbo bulldozer as usual, running for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Is our offense “fixed”? I don’t know, but the last night was encouraging. Rattler is going to have to be better on his intermediate and deep balls to help loosen up the screen and running games. And Satterfield…I don’t know. I’m probably not as down on him as most, but at some point he has to start putting up points or be held accountable.

Brooks & Wells & Vann & Shawn & Juju & Bell & Pine Tree. I literally texted Tbone “is Juice Wells still on the team” one play before his touchdown. The skill talent we have on offense is potentially among the best in the SEC, we just have to find ways to get them the ball. It was criminal in the first half that we barely heard some of these names mentioned. I realize there’s only one ball, but many OCs across the country would kill for a set of playmakers like this. I say this partly in a complaining way, but more in a hopeful way that this offense will get rolling in the second half of the year.

Sack attack. The Gamecocks skyrocketed from last in the SEC in sacks to 11th with a six-sack performance against a porous Kentucky offensive line last night. Strangely, Georgia is now last in the SEC in sacks.

Special. Ho-hum, another punt block. We’re leading the NCAA in that category. Too bad we didn’t score off of it.

Funhouse. I know we had some fun wins last year over Florida, Auburn and North Carolina, but there was something different about the win over the Wildcats last night. Maybe it was getting a really big monkey off our back, but it was positive and fun for the first time in a long time. Here’s to many more days/nights like that in the near future.

Next. Bye week baby, let’s get healthy and hit the second half of the season like a boss.

Go Cocks.