South Carolina at Kentucky: Keys to Saturday's game

mstory@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2012 

Keys to Saturday's Kentucky football game against South Carolina at Commonwealth Stadium:

THE GAME

No. 6 South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

TV: ESPN2

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, Sirius Channel 92, XM Channel 198

Series: South Carolina leads 15-7-1 and has won 11 of the last 12 meetings

Last meeting: South Carolina won 54-3 on Oct. 8, 2011, in Columbia, S.C.

Line: South Carolina by 21

THE KEYS

1. Maxwell Smith's shoulder

If nothing else, Kentucky's abysmal passing performance (60 yards, three interceptions) without injured starting quarterback Maxwell Smith last week at Florida revealed just how vital the sophomore from California (322 yards a game average in three starts) is to the Kentucky season. The question this week is how long and how effectively Smith's separated throwing shoulder will allow him to play.

2. Slow down Carolina's pass rush

South Carolina might have the most talented defensive line in the SEC. The Gamecocks are second in the conference with 15 sacks and have three individual defenders in the top 10, led by star sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney (4.5 sacks) and his backup Chaz Sutton (four sacks). The Kentucky offensive line has been one of this season's bright sports so far, allowing only four sacks all season. If Maxwell Smith plays, the pressure will be on the UK line to keep Carolina rushers from pounding away at the quarterback's balky shoulder.

3. The Head Ball Coach factor

The last time Steve Spurrier brought his team to Commonwealth Stadium, he left with a loss — his one defeat against Kentucky in 19 career games versus the Cats. Last season, Spurrier's vengeance was fierce, as South Carolina humiliated UK, 54-3, in a game best summarized like this: The Gamecocks ran 91 plays; the Wildcats gained 96 total yards. So will UK draw confidence from having beaten Spurrier in Commonwealth in 2010 or did The HBC reinsert himself back into the Wildcats' minds with last season's epic beat-down?

THE MOOD

Is dark. Almost all the buzz around Kentucky football centers around the job status of third-year head coach Joker Phillips and who might replace him if he is let go. On paper, the Kentucky schedule lets up a bit after the at Florida, South Carolina back-to-back. An upset of the No. 6 Gamecocks seems unlikely, but a better-than-expected UK effort could build some confidence for some of the more "winnable" games ahead.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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