COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s enhancements for its famed 2001 entrance didn’t quite go as planned Saturday night.
Neither did the game against Kentucky, and the news afterward was fitting for a gloomy night.
Trying to improve to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 2012, the Gamecocks instead suffered a 23-13 loss to the Wildcats. It was Kentucky’s fourth consecutive win against South Carolina.
After the game, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp announced that all-purpose player Deebo Samuel is out for the season with a broken leg.
Samuel was a bright spot early in the season for the Gamecocks with six touchdowns, including two kickoff returns for scores. Against Kentucky, Samuel scored on the game’s first play of scrimmage on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Jake Bentley.
Asked how the loss of Samuel would impact the Gamecocks, Muschamp asked: “What do you think?”
Samuel was injured on a curl route late in the third quarter. He caught the pass for a nine-yard gain but was down clutching his left knee. Muschamp said he was “rolled up.”
South Carolina’s offense struggled for much of the night, even when Samuel was on the field. The running game - South Carolina’s inability to effectively run on offense and stop Kentucky on defense - doomed the Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 SEC).
Early in the third quarter, facing third and short near midfield, South Carolina’s A.J. Turner was stuffed on consecutive running plays.
And late in the game, with a chance to force a Kentucky punt and get one more shot, the Gamecocks instead gave up a 54-yard run that iced the game for the Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 SEC).
Kentucky ran the ball for 184 yards; the Gamecocks picked up only 54 on the ground.
“They whipped us up front,” Muschamp said.
With a sellout Williams-Brice Stadium crowd of 82,493 and several enhancements for the game experience, the Gamecocks fizzled after the hot start.
A new smoke machine worked fine, but it appeared that only one of the four pyrotechnic devices produced flames.
Samuel’s 68-yard touchdown was the longest reception for him and the longest pass for Bentley in their Gamecock careers.
It would take the Gamecocks more than three quarters before they scored again, and by that time Kentucky had built a 20-6 lead on the strength of two Benny Snell touchdown runs and a pair of Austin MacGinnis field goals.
With Samuel out, Bentley found OrTre Smith for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone on fourth down.
The Gamecocks needed a third-down stop on third and 8, but Stephen Johnson scrambled 54 yards to the Gamecocks 10. Another MacGinnis field goal sealed the victory for Kentucky.
With the loss of Samuel, Muschamp said the Gamecocks have plenty of other options at the receiver slot.
“I think we have some capable guys,” Muschamp said. “OrTre made a great catch. We’ve got guys who can stretch the field and attack the middle. Next man up, that’s got to be our mentality.”