COLUMBIA -- South Carolina came back on its shield last week, its honor intact after a 27-17 loss at Alabama.
The Gamecocks took plenty of solace in pushing the deep and talented Crimson Tide to the ragged edge, but rest assured they won't be looking to siphon any moral victories out of this week's crucial trip to Kentucky (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
A win would improve South Carolina's record to 5-1 and enhance the feel-good flavor of a remarkable season. A loss? Sheldon Brown prefers not to consider the implications.
"We need a win -- bad," said the Gamecocks' junior cornerback. "This is a very, very, very bad must-win. This is one of the games on the schedule where people give us a chance. Most of the games, people just expect us to show up and play a good game."
Without a win, good effort won't suffice Saturday in Lexington, Ky., where South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC) will try to snap a two-game losing streak to the Wildcats (2-3, 0-2.)
A defeat would imperil the Gamecocks' bowl hopes and place considerable pressure on them to win their next two games, against Arkansas at home (Oct. 14) and at Vanderbilt (Oct. 21).
Though coach Lou Holtz said he was pleased with his team's resolve at Alabama, he has plenty to worry about this week -- most notably, stopping a potent offensive attack led by 275-pound freshman quarterback Jared Lorenzen.
The Gamecocks proved susceptible against the pass vs. the Crimson Tide, leaving receivers open on numerous occasions in surrendering a season-high 204 yards through the air.
South Carolina entered the game having held its opponents to a 49-percent completion rate, but Alabama completed 19 of 32 passes for a 59-percent clip.
Lorenzen's nine interceptions in five games show he's got room for improvement, but Holtz said his arm strength, size and accuracy make him "maybe the best quarterback in the conference right now."
Presumably, Holtz was excluding the Wildcats' last game, a 35-17 drubbing at Mississippi. Kentucky was behind 32-3 at halftime, and Lorenzen threw three interceptions and suffered five sacks in what might rank as the Wildcats' worst performance in Hal Mumme's 39 games as coach there.
Still, Mumme's chaotic "Air Raid" offense is capable of rolling up big numbers, as his team's combined 863 yards in its last two wins over South Carolina will attest.
And the Gamecocks have some offensive problems of their own to address, particularly those that come inside opponents' 20-yard line. The Red Zone was the Dead Zone for South Carolina against Alabama, as the Gamecocks bungled three drives that reached the Crimson Tide's 11-yard line.
Reid Bethea has missed field goals of 28, 23 and 21 yards this season, and three of the Gamecocks' five interceptions have come inside the 20.
Holtz attributed the missed opportunities close to the goal line to the Gamecocks' inability to muscle opponents up front.
"It comes back to our offensive line," he said. "You just have to be a little bit more physical and get a little bit more push, which we have not been able to do."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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