A handshake had a hand in Kentucky’s victory on Saturday night at South Carolina.
More accurately: The lack of a handshake.
When Kentucky’s four captains, Nick Haynes, Mike Edwards, Stephen Johnson and Courtney Love, met with the Gamecocks captains at midfield for the coin toss, the official told the players to shake hands.
It’s the norm at every coin toss.
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But not this particular coin toss.
“They don’t shake our hands to start,” Coach Mark Stoops said after the Cats’ 23-13 victory at Brice-Williams Stadium. “I’ve never seen that, the captains don’t shake our hands. They wanted to go at it, but we were ready, too.”
Edwards said it simply: “added fuel to the fire.”
It specifically got normally reserved Love going before the starting whistle.
“I was really jacked up,” Love said. “I got into the tight end’s face and told him we’re going to be here all night. They didn’t want to shake hands. I didn’t mind that.”
It provided even more motivation for Johnson, who made sure he told his teammates about the slight.
“That just fired us up even more,” the quarterback said. “Gave us even more motivation, which was pretty stupid on their part, but they just didn’t want to shake our hands.”
At first it looked like a move that was paying off for the Gamecocks, who won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff.
On the first play of their series, South Carolina needed just one 68-yard pass to Deebo Samuel to get on the board first 6-0.
But Kentucky bounced back and battled, which was exactly what Stoops wanted to see from his players.
“We’re not going to take any steps back,” the head coach said. “We play good competition every week. I just told this team ‘We’re going to keep our edge and our attitude, but you’ve gotta be humble and hungry.’ Just keep on staying focused and getting better and working. This team will do that.”
‘He was phenomenal’
There were a lot of question marks about Kentucky’s depth and how the defense would respond without junior linebacker Jordan Jones, who sat out with an injured shoulder.
Jones led the Cats in tackles last season with 109 and is instant energy whenever the defense is struggling.
“It’s hard to replace a guy like Jordan because he is a guy who can erase a lot of things,” Stoops said of Jones, who is questionable for the game against Florida on Saturday. “He’s all over the place.”
UK got plenty of what it needed from Brown, who finished with six tackles, including one tackle for loss, before going out in the fourth quarter with a cramp.
“Eli has been playing very, very good football,” Stoops said. “He’s been playing much more disciplined. … I was excited to watch him play. Sure, I’d love to have Jordan. We miss him, but I was really anxious to give Eli — next man up. We felt good about it.”
The guy playing next to Brown all night, Courtney Love, was pleased with how the sub performed
“He was phenomenal,” Love said. “I’m so happy with the way he played. I knew he was going to play like that. He had a great camp. He’s a guy who has been patient and was ready to step up.”
After a lot of head shaking and hand wringing about the Cats’ wildcat formation in the first two games, it appears it’s here to stay after Benny Snell scored out of it twice on runs of 5 and 1 yards.
“We ain’t never going to give up the wildcat,” Snell smiled.
The sophomore running back even got a chance to pass out of it, but his loft to an uncovered Stephen Johnson down the left sideline didn’t work.
“The ball got right in the lights,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “Stephen could not see it. That would have been pretty fun, but it’s going to force people to get out here on him. So, I think that was a good thing.”
Other news and notes
Kentucky’s quarterback hit nine different targets in the game, throwing for 169 yards. He had four passes to Garrett Johnson and two each to four different players.
It’s a sign of growth, UK’s offensive coordinator said.
“It’s a great development of him going through progressions fast and getting it to the receiver where a coverage isn’t and getting it to the right spot,” Gran said. “That’s huge, and that’s what this offense is. When this offense is right some guys might catch seven, eight balls one game and they might catch two the next game. It’s tough that way, but it’s all based on the defense.
“So everybody has got to be all in, and man they were all in tonight. They were doing a good job.”
• The Kentucky postgame notes said the Florida game next week will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
• It’s the first time UK has defeated a Southeastern Conference opponent four straight times since doing it against Vanderbilt in 2004-07.