Kentucky is the underdog heading into its showdown with South Carolina according to Vegas.
What do Cats Illustrated staff members predict on Saturday night?
What must Kentucky do to have a shot at pulling off the upset in Columbia on Saturday night?
T.J. Walker, Basketball Recruiting Analyst: The Cats cannot afford to turn the ball over. The Gamecocks have been completely out gained in two games but they were able to win both games because of turnovers by the other team. It's going to be a wild atmosphere and South Carolina will be determined to avoid a fourth straight loss to Kentucky, but the Cats may not have a chance if they lose the turnover battle on Saturday.
Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor: In order for UK to escape Columbia with a W, the 'Wildcat' formation has to return to pre-2017 form. The Gamecocks have never been able to stop it during UK's three-game win streak, so I have a hunch it's going to be a heavy part of Eddie Gran's focus on Saturday. Will this be Lynn Bowden's breakout performance?
Warren Taylor, Staff Writer: For Kentucky to pull the upset in Columbia, I think that they need to do two things: stop the run and be excellent on special teams. The Gamecocks scored a special teams touchdown in each of their first two games, and both went a long way in switching the momentum in Carolina's favor. Kentucky needs to cover the field well, not only to prevent a return TD but also pin the Gamecock's vaunted offense deep in their own territory. South Carolina's leading rushers, Ty'Son Williams and Rico Dowdle, average less than 50 yards combined. If Kentucky can keep either of them from getting hot, then they will render the Gamecock's offense one dimensional as they did against Southern Miss and EKU. At that point, UK's secondary will be in a position to make a game-sealing play.
Adam Luckett, Guest Contributor: Stop the run. UK’s front seven enters the game holding opponents to two yards per carry and this has been one of the strengths for the team to start the season. The competition becomes tougher this week, but this is a South Carolina squad that has struggled to establish the ground game this season. The Gamecocks are only averaging 3.3 yards per carry and this will possibly be the worst SEC ground game UK faces this season. It was a point of emphasis in the offseason and UK needs to come out and prove that they have a legit run defense. If they can make South Carolina one dimensional, it will create some opportunities for Josh Allen and Denzil Ware to come screaming off the edge to create some havoc that could lead to turnovers.
Justin Rowland, Publisher: Can center exchange/snapping issues really be so important as to be the answer here? Yes. Frankly, we should be able to almost take this for granted. When a snap ends a drive, because it's high, wide or wherever other than where it's supposed to be, it should make you gasp and shake your head. Unfortunately for Kentucky it has been too common this year. Kentucky does have to do other things well on Saturday night (establish the run, stop Deebo Samuel, etc) but if they don't get the snap issues fixed none of the other stuff matters. In a hostile road atmosphere you can't give away drives (or potentially the football).
What's your score prediction and why?
T.J. Walker, Basketball Recruiting Analyst: South Carolina 35, Kentucky 20. UK has as much talent as USC, and if this game were in Lexington it would be a different story. But it's South Carolina's first home game of the year, it's a night kickoff and there's optimism in Columbia after a 2-0 start to the season. UK will likely be without Jordan Jones and that could be a major blow to the defense. UK doesn't do enough offensively and won't get enough stops defensively.
Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor: On paper, I think you have to give South Carolina a very slight edge for playing at home in a great atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium. I think the Cats will have a great opportunity to win this game, but something tells me they're not quite ready to do so. South Carolina 26, Kentucky 23.
Warren Taylor, Staff Writer: Kentucky 24, South Carolina 23. The last two games in the series were ugly and low-scoring. Kentucky's offense will struggle to put points on the board at some stage of the game, that is a given, but if precedence holds will get hot at the right time. For all the hype about South Carolina offense, I do believe that Kentucky's defense is the best they have faced all season. The Cats will stuff the run and force a turnover or two to preserve the victory in another close duel in the Palmetto State.
Adam Luckett, Guest Contributor: South Carolina 24-20. I actually really like how UK matches up with South Carolina and I believe the Gamecocks are a bit of a paper tiger at this point. The Cocks are a 6-6 or 7-5 team that is a year away from truly competing for a divisional ground. The weakness of South Carolina’s run defense will be handling power runs and that is something they have not seen yet in their first two games. Kentucky will give them a taste of that, but I have just not seen enough from UK’s offensive line to pull the trigger on the upset pick. The Gamecocks play opportunistic football by getting a huge fourth quarter turnover to steal another victory.
Justin Rowland, Publisher: Kentucky 27, South Carolina 24. I'm putting some confidence in Stephen Johnson here. In his last two road games he has beaten Louisville and Southern Miss. He has been one of Kentucky's best players this year. He rises to the occasion and will calm the team, just enough, for the offense to execute a victory. Kentucky won't kick to Samuel and South Carolina is indeed opportunistic, not lucky, but the Wildcats rally amid public concern and a widespread belief this will be a loss.
Who will be Kentucky's MVP against South Carolina?
T.J. Walker, Basketball Recruiting Analyst: Lynn Bowden. He has his breakout game as a Wildcat, likely because of his contribution in the "Wildcat". Kentucky knows what they have in Bowden and South Carolina doesn't. UK has been saving him for a big game and you will see the Cats go to him time after time on Saturday. Perhaps EKU would have been his breakout game if it wasn't cut short, but it's finally time to unleash Bowden.
Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor: I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but in order for UK to win, I think the MVP needs to be Benny Snell Jr., or by extension, the Cats' O-Line as a unit.
Warren Taylor, Staff Writer: Stephen Johnson. For Kentucky's struggling offense to run smoothly than number 15 has to continue to a calming influence. Johnson's ability to run and fake on the option is an undervalued part of his game. When South Carolina zeroes in on Benny Snell, Johnson will make them pay at one point or another. Also, even when his pass protection breaks down, Johnson will get positive yardage on a scramble just like he did against EKU.
Adam Luckett, Guest Contributor: Garrett Johnson. There’s been a lot of buzz about Lynn Bowden going into this game but it’s hard to expect much from a true freshman in his first road game. Meanwhile, Johnson has absolutely torched Will Muschamp defenses in his career as he has collected 19 grabs, 352 yards, and two scores in three games. I believe you’ll see Johnson more in the slot this game after struggling to get open outside and he’ll be Stephen Johnson’s number one target on Saturday.
Justin Rowland, Publisher: Logan Stenberg. Kentucky's offensive line has the ability to win the match up in the trenches when the Cats have the ball. He's the one offensive lineman who has played in his spot, left guard, the entire season. They will run over that left guard spot a lot on Saturday. He has been okay this year but I expect him to play his best game of the season by far on Saturday night.
What's one bold prediction for the game?
T.J. Walker, Basketball Recruiting Analyst: Austin MacGinnis misses an important kick. Maybe it's to put UK up two possessions early? Maybe it's to cut it to a one possession game at the half or in the second half. MacGinnis has been great as a kicker for Kentucky but in such a big game and wild atmosphere you get the sense he's do to miss a big kick.
Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor: Kentucky, not South Carolina with the electric Deebo Samuel, is the team that returns a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.
Warren Taylor, Staff Writer: Drew Barker will see the field at some point Saturday. It won't be the most popular move in some fan circles and might not make sense at first glance, but the coaching staff sees value in Barker getting game reps. On the road in a hostile environment is a fantastic time to do so.
Adam Luckett, Guest Contributor: South Carolina loses the total yardage battle again. In two consecutive games, the Gamecock have be substantially outgained but have found ways to pull off wins. I think this happens again in Columbia on Saturday night but it’s pretty close. The Gamecocks are just finding ways to win right now and they’re due to turn the tide against Kentucky after losing one possession games three years in a row.
Justin Rowland, Publisher: The tight ends combine to account for two touchdowns in this game. Hayden Hurst and C.J. Conrad are both instrumental in their respective offenses and will continue to get lots of targets, particularly in the red zone. Either they each score or one has a big game.