South Carolina football: Gamecocks battle Wildcats in SEC finale

South Carolina football travels to Lexington Saturday for its final game of 2020.

South Carolina will travel to a chilly Lexington, KY this weekend to take on SEC East foe Kentucky. The Gamecocks have lost five straight following an upset of Auburn back in October, with the latest being a 45-16 defeat at the hands of Georgia.

The South Carolina defense has allowed 45 points or more in four of those five losses, but they’ll hope to find some success against a Wildcat offense that ranks dead last in the conference (291 yd/g).

The Gamecock attack is led by the league’s leading rusher, Kevin Harris, who’s creeping in on a 1,000-yard season. With 72 rushing yards on Saturday, the sophomore would become the program’s first 1,000-yard runner in nearly a decade, most impressive considering this year’s 10-game, conference-only slate.

Luke Doty will make his second career start, after a 190-yard performance against the Bulldogs. Doty looked pretty good, throwing just four incompletions on the day, but he’ll need to continue to improve against the Wildcats if the Gamecocks want to come home with a victory.

The best news that the Gamecocks got this week was the return of leading receiver Shi Smith, who’s missed most of the last two contests with a concussion. South Carolina struggled at the wide receiver position without Smith in the lineup, though tight end Nick Muse did record a career-high 131 yards versus the Bulldogs, and hauled in his first touchdown of the year.

Kentucky, like the Gamecocks, has struggled on offense, failing to score in the second half of their most recent matchup with Florida. The Wildcats are averaging 291.8 yards and 19.6 points a game, both near the bottom of the SEC.

They’ve been great on the other side of the ball, though, ranking fifth in the league in total defense. While the Wildcats have been one of the best in the league against the pass, they’ve been vulnerable, at times, defending the run, which provides some hope for the Gamecocks offense to find success.

 

KEY MATCHUPS

Kevin Harris v. UK run defense

This game will come down to the trenches, with the team able to establish the run having an edge. Kevin Harris leads the SEC in rushing, but he’s been held to less than 60 yards in three of his last four matchups, with opposing defenses stacking the box and forcing the Gamecocks to move the ball through the air.

Harris will need to find some success against the Kentucky front seven for the Gamecocks to be successful on offense.

SC defense v. UK run game

The same can be said for the Wildcat run game versus South Carolina’s front seven. The Gamecocks allow nearly 185 yards a game on the ground, while the Wildcats have a bevy of talented ball carriers, led by Chris Rodriguez. Rodriguez missed last week’s matchup with an injury, but should be back in the lineup on Saturday.

Kentucky has three rushers with more than 350 rushing yards, so slowing a deep rushing attack will be key for the South Carolina defense.

 

PREDICTION

South Carolina took the Wildcats down last year by a score of 24-7, ending a five-game Kentucky winning streak. The Gamecocks enter as two-score underdogs, due in part to a depleted defense that’s missing eight starters. It will be good to get Shi Smith back on the field, as he plays his final game in garnet and black, but it may not be enough to keep pace with the Wildcats.

SC – 21

UK – 28