COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina survived a late scare and extended its home winning streak to 14 games with a 35-28 victory over Kentucky on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. In the process, the Gamecocks might have lost a valuable member of the defense for an undisclosed amount of time.
All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did not dress for the game after suffering bruised ribs early in the week. He didn't inform the coaches until right before game time that he would be unable to play. That left coach Steve Spurrier a little bewildered afterward.
"I don't want to get into all of that," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I will just say he told me he couldn't play. That his ribs hurt, couldn't run. Said 'I can't play.' I said, that's fine, you don't have to play. We'll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don't know. We're not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we'll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to. If he doesn't want to play, he doesn't have to play, simple as that. We were thinking he was going to suit up and play. He did not practice Thursday. Couldn't run. Said he couldn't play. Any time a player says he's hurt, can't play, who are we to question? He doesn't play."
Without Clowney, the South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) defense struggled in the fourth quarter for the third straight week.
The Gamecocks opened the fourth quarter with a comfortable 20-point lead but twice saw the Wildcats pull within seven points.
The Wildcats had two scores in a 1:53 span of the fourth quarter to trim the Gamecocks' lead to 27-20 with 11:50 remaining in the game. Jalen Whitlow threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Demarco Robinson on the second play of the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Whitlow hit Ryan Timmons for a 14-yard scoring toss to make it a one-score game.
The Gamecocks offense responded on their next drive by going 89 yards in seven plays. Quarterback Connor Shaw went around left end for a 2-yard scoring run with 8:05 remaining.
"Kentucky didn't stop us all night," Shaw said. "We had confidence that they wouldn't. That was the mentality we had on the 89-yard drive and we just went to work."
The Wildcats would add another score but South Carolina was able to run the clock out after recovering an onside kick with 4:02 remaining.
"We took their best shot, battled back and had an opportunity to make plays in the fourth quarter," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "I was proud we were in a position to do that but very frustrated that we couldn't do that. I thought our players showed a lot of character, a lot of toughness."
Spurrier was pleased with the win even though South Carolina allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter. In the last three games, the Gamecocks have allowed 51 points in the fourth quarter of games but won all three.
"We're still winning so it makes it not as tough," Spurrier said. "We don;t like it but if that's who we are that's the kind of team we're going to be all year it looks like."
The Kentucky defense, which came into the game ranked second in the SEC and 18th nationally in pass defense by allowing 175 yards through the air, was shredded by Shaw for 262 yards and a touchdown.
Kentucky is in a stretch of playing four straight ranked opponents. They have dropped the first three games by a combined 86-48. They face No. 1 Alabama at home next Saturday.
Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) went with Whitlow at quarterback after he split time with Maxwell Smith during the first four games. Whitlow played the entire game for the first time this season and nearly directed the second-half comeback. He finished with 178 passing and two touchdowns and added 69 yards rushing and a score.
"Even though it's a loss, you have to take the positives," Whitlow said. "We were close, just a couple of more plays. We gave them all they wanted."
South Carolina opened by scoring on its first three offensive possessions. The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and covered 77 yards in four plays with Shaw connecting with Damiere Byrd on a 62-yard scoring strike.
Mike Davis capped the second Gamecocks drive with a 22-yard scoring run and added his second touchdown on the next series from 1 yard. The sophomore has eight touchdowns to lead South Carolina.
Kentucky was bottled up with just 34 yards of total offense in the first quarter, but the Wildcats finally got going on their third possession. Raymond Sanders scored out of the Wildcat formation from 2 yards to cap the 14-play, 75-yard drive.
Elliott Fry added a 40-yard field with 12 seconds remaining in the half to give South Carolina a 24-7 lead at halftime.
NOTES: Stoops said he almost made a decision early in the game to replace Whitlow with Smith but decided to stick with his starter to see if he could work his way out of it. The Wildcats scored on their final three possessions. Whitlow has been the starter in three of the five Kentucky games this season. ... Davis, the SEC's leading rusher coming into the game, finished the first half with 62 yards and topped 100 yards for the the fourth time this season. He finished with 106 yards on 21 attempts and two scores. The sophomore now has 610 yards on the season. ...The win for Spurrier moved his record against the Wildcats to 20-1. The lone loss came in 2010. South Carolina has won 13 of the last 14 games against Kentucky.