Mike Hartline said he doesn't think about last year's South Carolina game that much anymore. But you couldn't really blame him if he did.
Hartline appeared to be coming into his own as a quarterback that day, throwing for 139 yards and helping Kentucky to a 17-14 halftime lead. But Hartline suffered a knee injury on the third play of the second half. Not only did it perhaps cost the Wildcats the game, it basically wrecked the remainder of Hartline's junior season.
With the 10th-ranked Gamecocks in town Saturday night, Hartline said he's moved past the 2009 game.
"It's really more about us getting a win than anything else," Hartline said. "You do wonder 'what if' sometimes. You start to get in your rhythm, you start to feel good, and you wonder what if you could have finished the game and the season. It's tough. But you can't control it. It's a last-year thing. It's more about keeping our offense flowing, staying in rhythm and trying to get a win."
The Cats have been left saying 'what if' many times against South Carolina in recent years. UK has lost 10 in a row to the Gamecocks, with seven of those coming by a touchdown or less.
One area where the Cats could help their fortunes is by winning the turnover battle. In the first three games, all wins, they forced four turnovers and committed none. In the last three games, all losses, they've given it away six times, forcing just two. Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips noted that South Carolina's only loss, a 35-27 defeat at Auburn, came as a result of four turnovers in the final period.
"That's what wins games, the turnovers," he said. "South Carolina is probably undefeated in the league if they don't turn the ball over four times in the fourth quarter against Auburn."
Auburn fumbled four times against Kentucky last week, but the Wildcats couldn't recover any of them. Defensive coordinator Steve Brown said that was bad luck more than anything else. "The balls just bounced the wrong way," he said. "You really can't do anything about that. You can coach aggression when you're tackling and you can coach stripping the ball when you tackle, but you can't magically make the ball come to you. It takes some luck. There'll be games where we'll be out of position and strip it, and it will bounce right to us."
It would seem like the Cats are due for a bit of good karma, particularly against South Carolina.
"You'd like to think that, but you can't count on it," Brown said. "The best way to win football games is to go out there, play hard and play fundamentally sound. You can't sit around thinking that you're due some luck."
"Player to player, teammate to teammate, we do talk about that stuff, like maybe it's time we got some breaks to go our way," he said. "But like Coach (Randy) Sanders says, 'There's no magic play.' Magic comes with effort. So hopefully we can keep putting forth the effort and some good things will come our way."