Kentucky survives rocky start, improves to 3-0 with 23-13 victory at South Carolina.
After getting hit with a 68-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of Saturday's game at South Carolina, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops had a hunch how the Wildcats would respond.
Like any boxer worth his salt.
"A bunch of fighters, a bunch of scrappers," Stoops said after the Cats shook off the early adversity and gradually pulled away for a 23-13 win over the Gamecocks at sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
"... Took a shot right on the chin the first play of the game, beared down and played every snap from there. It doesn't surprise me."
Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 SEC) claimed its fourth consecutive win over the Gamecocks.
This may have been the most unlikely during the streak, given how the game began. In addition to the early South Carolina score, the Cats turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions.
But UK leaned on its drastically improved defense to regain control of the game. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC) would not score another point until late in the fourth quarter.
By the time the Gamecocks finally did, UK responded with a clutch 77-yard drive for Austin MacGinnis' third field goal of the game with 2:07 remaining to make it 23-13. It was highlighted by a 54-yard run by senior quarterback Stephen Johnson on a third-and-eight play.
"He's a winner. He makes plays when he has to," Stoops said of Johnson, who improved to 10-4 as UK's primary quarterback. "... This guy just makes plays."
The impressive UK defense held the Gamecocks to only 54 yards rushing, allowed only three of 12 third-down conversions, picked off two passes, and made a pair of fourth-down stops.
Kentucky was outgained 358-353 but dominated the ground game (184-54) and time of possession (36:49-23:11). Sophomore running back Benny Snell Jr. had 102 yards and two touchdowns on a workhorse 32-carry night.
In this Cats Illustrated "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK victory...
WHAT WE LIKED:
It's Stoops' mantra: the Cats didn't flinch. After falling behind 6-0 before anyone could get settled into their seats, UK did not panic despite playing in one of the most raucous venues the nation has to offer. Following a Mike Edwards interception on South Carolina's third possession, the Cats took total control of the game and silenced the Sandstorm-worshiping crowd of 82,493. At one point spanning the first and second quarters, UK ran 24 of the game's next 27 plays during one of the best stretches of Eddie Gran's tenure as offensive coordinator.
Derrick Baity, Kentucky - The Cats' junior cornerback from Tampa, Fla., led the team with eight tackles (six solo) and an interception in perhaps the finest all-around game of his career. He was in on both of UK's fourth-down stops, one coming at midfield early in the third quarter and the other coming on the goal line early in the fourth quarter to thwart a potential touchdown run by South Carolina's Rico Dowdle.
BY THE NUMBERS:
3 - Consecutive road wins for UK for first time since 2009 when the Cats won at Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia.
7th - 100-yard rushing effort of Benny Snell Jr.'s career.
17 - Points or less for UK's first three opponents, the first time since 2008 for any three-game stretch.
9 of 16 - The Cats' third-down conversion rate.
18-1 - Record for Cats under Stoops when leading at the end of the third quarter.
2008 - The last season in which UK held three consecutive opponents to under 100 yards rushing.
"You wanna win football games, be on the right side of this: we rushed it 47 times for 184 and they rushed it 20 for 54." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops
Kentucky plays host to Florida (1-1, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday at Kroger Field. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. ET and be televised by ESPN2, ESPNU or the SEC Network. The Gators beat Tennessee 26-20 on a 63-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired today.