By Joe Cox
I was in Commonwealth Stadium in 2010 the night they drove Steve Spurrier down. All of my life, I've watched UK football games thinking, "Gee, if UK just gets a stop here and takes the ball and scores, and gets another stop, and scores again, it's anybody's game." And that night, a 28-10 halftime deficit became a 31-28 victory. It took basically a perfect storm.
This year, it wouldn't take a perfect storm. This is much more like your father's South Carolina Gamecocks than Steve Spurrier's last couple of rough-and-tumble Wildcat beaters. Dylan Thompson doesn't strike fear into my heart. The Gamecock running game is fine, and the defense can get some heat off of the edge... but they're really just another SEC football team.
For UK, at 3-1, this is a chance to play ahead of the chains. If Kentucky loses Saturday, it's not like the season is ruined. My blue print for bowl hunting is still in place - go 4-2 in the first half of the season and pull a couple of minor upsets in the back half of the year. But playing with house money is a good place to be. It almost created an upset in the Swamp. Could Saturday be the day that Mark Stoops serves notice that Kentucky is out of the cellar and into the bowl picture?
Before Saturday, I thought the answer was probably "yes." But then the UK offense struggled through a dog fight of a 17-7 win over Vanderbilt in a game that was never really that close. Patrick Towles started dropping the football like it was hot, to steal an awful (and probably already outdated) hip-hop line. Neal Brown appeared to be padding his time of possession stats, as he called an entire half of bubble screens and runs into the line, give or take a few plays.
But as lousy as the UK offense played, the defense laid the wood to the Commodores. I loved the third down blitzes, as UK seemed to be having a team meeting in the Vandy backfield. I loved three interceptions. And most of all, I loved a win, the first SEC win in 18 games, which tied a UK record for the longest streak of ineptitude.
And of course, four freshmen apparently celebrated by firing an air gun on campus, getting themselves charged with disorderly conduct and suspended for this weekend's game. Dubose and Barker were redshirting anyway, but Dorion Baker and Boom Williams could well be missed Saturday. I know they're 18 year old kids, I know boys will be boys, but I also know it was stupid and dangerous.
So I don't know about this Saturday. But let's talk a little more about last week.
On a day when the overall yardage total is 384 to 139, you've got to give your game ball to the entire defense. Vandy had eight, count them, eight first downs-and also completed eight, count them, eight passes. UK held Vandy to 2.5 yards per carry, sacked Wade Freebeck four times, picked him off three more, and generally answered the bell EVERY SINGLE TIME. Great job!
The UK running back corps stepped up. When Patrick Towles's bizarre rushing totals are taken away, UK's fab four of Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton, and Boom Williams totaled 34 carries for 180 yards. Stout work, which will hopefully continue without Boom on Saturday.
Austin MacGinnis played well - hitting a crucial 44-yard field goal to put UK back ahead in a lead they never relinquished. He also did a great job with kickoffs, booming one for a touchback and placing the other three well enough that Vandy totaled just 34 yards on three returns. Field position always matters.
Three fumbles and a pick for Patty Ice, who was missing open throws, and generally looked a little befuddled after the opening drive. Growing pains happen and I'm sure he'll be better... but it needs to be this weekend for UK to have a chance.
Nothing from the tight ends. At this point, I think Neal Brown has just given up the ghost. It's easier to put another receiver in the game than clog up the field with a tight end who doesn't do anything.
Neal Brown himself comes under a little fire here. For the second time this year, UK's offense came out of the gate blazing and then played the rest of the game to not lose. With Towles's ball security issues, it nearly backfired. Maybe he was saving the good stuff for Saturday. I hope so.
WHERE ARE WE: SEC POWER RANKINGS
If anybody knows who is good, let them write this for me next week. Sheesh.
1. Alabama (4-0). My argument that they're the best until somebody shows me otherwise is starting to look better.
2. Auburn (4-0). I'm not sure I believe in this Auburn team, but the corollary to the Alabama ranking is that until they get beat, I've got to respect Auburn.
3. Mississippi State (4-0). I think they're going to beat A&M this weekend. I also think Dan Mullen is going to have half an eye on that Florida/Tennessee game. For his next job.
4. Ole Miss (4-0). I don't see them beating Alabama, but I wouldn't think it was the craziest thing I'd heard this year. It should be a heck of an Egg Bowl to end the season in the Mississippi bragging rights game.
5. Texas A&M (5-0). They beat Arkansas, but got moved way down for their troubles. They looked like a good offensive football team might gore them to death. I think you'll see that happen on Saturday.
6. LSU (4-1). With Brandon Harris at QB, I think LSU could still end up as high as third in the West. Could. We'll see.
7. Georgia (3-1). Yes, I put six teams from the SEC West ahead of the first team from the East. I could've put all seven and slept soundly. Georgia is a huge disappointment to me. They might win the East. But they're still disappointing.
8. Missouri (4-1). Good teams don't lose to Indiana at home. But bad teams don't win at South Carolina. I don't know what Missouri is. You tell me.
9. Tennessee (2-2). Huge game with Florida, but I think UT actually is much better that I thought they were. They're an 8-4 kind of team, which makes them scary in a year or two with the things Butch Jones is doing in recruiting.
10. Arkansas (3-2). They lose, but still get moved up a spot. They looked better than most of the East... and probably are.
11. Kentucky (3-1). Believe?
12. South Carolina (3-2). Weird, weird team. Has the sun set on Spurrier's coaching career? It could shoot way down on Saturday night.
13. Florida (2-1). I think they're going to lose Saturday, and that Will Muschamp is done at Florida. It's like watching Ron Zook coach at Florida all over again, except it feels like more of a dumpster fire.
14. Vanderbilt (1-4). Florida will beat them anyway.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
South Carolina will visit the friendly confines on Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night before what will hopefully be a raucous home crowd. Carolina beat Georgia, which sounded impressive at the time. But they also got the doors blown off at home by Texas A&M, and lost last week (again at home) to Missouri. The other wins were fairly pedestrian victories over East Carolina and Vandy.
The Gamecocks feature Mike Davis (368 yards, 3 TD) and Brandon Wilds (248 yards, 1 TD) in their running game. They average a solid 4.2 yards per carry, but meanwhile South Carolina has been gashed for 5.0 yards per carry by opposing offenses.
QB Dylan Thompson's numbers look good (1359 yards passing, 12 TD, 3 INT), but his skill set is fairly pedestrian. His main targets are Pharoah Cooper (24 catches, 296 yards, 3 TD) and Nick Jones (22 catches, 331 yards, 3 TD). Opponents have actually outpassed USC slightly as well.
In five games, South Carolina has just six QB sacks (for comparison's sake, UK sacked Vandy QB Wade Freebeck four times on Saturday). They have three interceptions and have forced only four total turnovers. LB Skai Moore (32 tackles) leads the defense.
Carolina doesn't turn the ball over much either (-1 on the season in turnover margin). When they get to the red zone, South Carolina is 17-for-17 this season (12 TDs, 5 field goals).
I do think Davis and Wilds can make some plays, and that Dylan Thompson will hit some passes. I think Towles has to play much sharper than last week, and I think he will. I saw the difference in this game on Saturday. I think this IS the game that moves UK "ahead of the chains" so to speak - and that the big play will come from the defense. The last time South Carolina lost in Commonwealth, it was a red zone interception that sealed the deal. I think the Bad Boys defense has a little magic in them.
UK 28, South Carolina 27
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
I thought South Carolina would handle Mizzou, but that error drops me to 33-4 for the year. I had Auburn by 27 (37-10) and they won by 28 (45-17). I expected Arkansas to give A&M some trouble (42-31 prediction), but I didn't think they'd almost beat them.
Week 6 Predictions:
Tennessee 35, Florida 16
Mississipipi State 38, Texas A&M 30
Alabama 45, Ole Miss 24
Georgia 45, Vandy 3
Auburn 29, LSU 28
Kentucky 28, South Carolina 27