It has been a remarkable week for the Kentucky Wildcats. A week ago, the Wildcats were a touchdown underdog getting ready to play at South Carolina. The conventional wisdom said that the Wildcats had no chance. The Gamecocks’ hometown newspaper, The State, even took a few shots, with columnists noting “[I]t’s hard to see where the Wildcats can do much to the Gamecocks” and “South Carolina is the better team.” Even your own humble columnist, noting the difficulty of winning games on the road in the SEC, picked Carolina by a touchdown.
And then a funny thing happened. Many funny things actually. Carolina opened the game with a 68-yard touchdown from QB Jake Bentley to WR Deebo Samuel. And after that play, 13 seconds into the game, Carolina was basically spent.
They missed the extra point. They went on to miss three more field goals. They were outgained on the ground 184-54. While Jake Bentley did eclipse 300 yards passing, he rarely hit the meaningful throws. Many times, the Wildcat pass defense bent but did not break. Final score: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13.
For Kentucky, Benny Snell and Stephen Johnson combined for 176 rushing yards. Snell averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, but had two short touchdown plunges, and kept the chains moving when needed. After throwing an interception on his second pass, Johnson settled in to go 16 of 25 passing for 169 yards. The defense benefitted from big games from Derrick Baity (eight tackles and an interception) and Mike Edwards (seven tackles and a diving interception of his own). Wildcat special teams were led by Austin MacGinnis who nailed three crucial field goals.
Just like that, Kentucky in many ways, has become the talk of the Southeastern Conference. The same Kentucky team which was overlooked throughout the preseason and the first two games, suddenly has become a trendy pick to end a three-decade losing streak to the Florida Gators. Three of four CBS Sports Network personalities picked the Wildcats to pull the upset on their weekly preview show. Speaking of which, Las Vegas wouldn’t see it as much of an upset. The Wildcats opened as a four point underdog, but the point spread is down to 2 ½ points as of this writing.
A week ago, Kentucky was expected to be routed by the juggernaut that is South Carolina. Now, Kentucky finds itself on unfamiliar territory, expected to go toe-to-toe with Florida Saturday night for sole possession of first place in the SEC East.
We’ll be back with another column soon on Friday breaking down that matchup, and making our weekly SEC picks (back by popular demand). Until then, consider what a week it’s been for the Big Blue Nation… and what a week the NEXT week could be.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books. His most recent, Almost Perfect (a study of baseball pitchers’ near-miss attempts at perfect games) is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.