LEXINGTON, Ky. — A sixth-ranked South Carolina team that’s rolling under coach Steve Spurrier would seem to have all kinds of advantages tonight against reeling Kentucky.
The Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) have outscored their last three opponents 128-26 and have won seven of eight dating back to last season. They appear poised to again defeat the Wildcats, especially after routing Kentucky 54-3 last fall at home.
None of that fazes Kentucky (1-3, 0-1).
The Wildcats believe the return of sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith from a separated shoulder provides the offense they need to end a two-game losing streak and avenge that blowout.
Kentucky has done it before. The Wildcats upset the Gamecocks 31-28 in Lexington two years ago. But South Carolina hasn’t forgotten that either and is not looking past Kentucky.
“We emphasize with the young guys that it is an SEC road game,” Gamecocks senior fullback Qua Gilchrist said. “It’s not about Kentucky, it’s the SEC on the road. So every opponent is going to be tough on us.”
South Carolina’s toughest challenge was its season opener at Vanderbilt. The Commodores outgained the Gamecocks 276-272 in that 17-13 victory and held South Carolina to just 67 passing yards.
The Gamecocks have taken flight in three games since, racking up 971 yards. Connor Shaw was nearly perfect in last week’s 31-10 home victory against Missouri. After missing on his first pass, the junior quarterback completed his final 20 attempts to set a school record, finishing with 249 yards and two touchdowns.
What’s even more impressive, he did it with a hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder. Spurrier said this week that Shaw — needing three consecutive completions to tie Tennessee’s Tee Martin for the SEC record — was fine and didn’t require extra padding or a brace.
Besides having a good arm, Shaw is an excellent runner and is another weapon in South Carolina’s potent ground game. He rushed for 41 yards last week and had an 80-yard run nullified by a penalty.
It’s a “shame that one was called back last week,” Spurrier said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a quarterback go 80 yards in my coaching career. That’s the first time ever, I’m pretty sure.”
Still, the Wildcats say their young defense is prepared for the dual threat QB.
“We’ve just got to know our coverages, because they like to run side-to-side and do different things in zone reads,” said Wildcats freshman Cody Quinn, who will make his second consecutive start at cornerback. “I think we can eliminate those” plays.