COLUMBIA - After three successive nail-biting victories in the SEC, South Carolina enjoyed a chance to dispatch an opponent with minimal stress. The Gamecocks played the heavyweight in a 42-6 victory over Kentucky on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina (5-0, 4-0 SEC) scored three touchdowns in the final 2:52 of the first quarter, led 28-0 at halftime and retired all the first-team players after increasing the advantage to 35-0 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
It was the kind of convincing victory that marks the performance of legitimate SEC title contenders.
"Coming out of that locker room with a 28-point lead was great," said running back Derek Watson, who posted a season-high 135 yards on 16 carries. "It takes a lot of the burden off your back, so you don't have to worry about mistakes."
It took the Gamecocks a series to warm up - then it was over before Kentucky knew what hit it. South Carolina posted three touchdowns in a span of four offensive snaps to blow the game wide open. Even though Kentucky (1-4, 0-3) piled up just 76 fewer total yards, the outcome was never in question after the first quarter.
Andrew Pinnock's 1-yard touchdown capped a 10-play, 58-yard drive to open the scoring, then the Gamecocks' defense forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back.
Two plays later - a 58-yard Watson run and a Phil Petty 13-yard scoring rush - and the Gamecocks led 14-0 with just 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Rod Thomas forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff that North Augusta's Brian Elam recovered at the Wildcat 28. Petty immediately hit Corey Alexander for a 23-yard touchdown as the quarter expired.
"That was a big relief," said senior Kalimba Edwards, who was shifted from his linebacker post to defensive end to fill in for injured starter Dennis Quinn. "I think the offense had them off-balance. That was the most complete game we've played since I've been here."
Even coach Lou Holtz had little to complain about after South Carolina improved to 5-0 for the first time since 1988.
"We didn't do everything we wanted to on offense, but we did put 42 points on the board," Holtz said. "We didn't do everything we wanted to on defense, but we did give up only six."
Holtz challenged his team to do more than the minimum needed to achieve a victory. His aim was to avoid any letdown after an emotional come-from-behind victory over Alabama last week.
"We talked to the team about paying the full price for victory, not going in and bargaining for it," Holtz said. "We've got five wins. We need one more to get to our first goal which is a winning season. Then we're bowl eligible."
Gamecocks fans stored up their loudest ovation of the day for the announcement that Georgia upset Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Despite the obvious ramifications on South Carolina's behalf in the SEC East race, Holtz wasn't celebrating.
"If anything, it makes it a more difficult uphill climb for us," he said. "It didn't help our chances either way, because they're going to play like they're on the edge of a cliff the rest of the way. They can't afford to slip up."
Rather than dwell on his team's success or Tennessee's failure this Saturday, Holtz only has eyes for the Oct. 13 matchup in Little Rock, Ark., where the Razorbacks handed the Gamecocks a humiliating 48-14 defeat two seasons ago.
"We were riddled and drilled at Arkansas," Holtz said. "It was the longest time I have ever been on a sideline. I've played eight-hour rounds of golf that weren't as long as that game at Arkansas."
WHO SHINED: Junior safety Rashad Faison was a defensive dynamo, accounting for a game-high 10 tackles including all four Gamecock tackles for losses, one sack and a forced fumble.
WHAT WORKED: The Gamecocks' interior line blocking opened gaping holes up the middle for Derek Watson (135 yards) and Andrew Pinnock (61) to exploit.
WHAT DIDN'T: The game clock. It took half of the first quarter before engineers could fix the scoreboard timer which was running non-stop after the opening kickoff.
WHAT'S NEXT: South Carolina (5-0, 3-0 SEC) travels Saturday to Arkansas; game time TBA.