COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Steve Spurrier was able to get his 15th consecutive win against the University of Kentucky last night, but this time the Wildcats gave him an awful lot of help.
Eighth-ranked UK shot itself in the foot with four costly turnovers, including three by quarterback Andre Woodson, which proved to be the major difference in the No. 11 Gamecocks' 38-23 win in front of 76,220 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"Simply, this game was decided on our mistakes, or South Carolina's alertness for turnovers," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said. "It was a typical SEC football game in that the team that makes the most mistakes usually comes up short, and unfortunately that was us.
"I don't know if it was nerves or crowd noise or what, but we weren't a well-oiled machine."
Kentucky outgained South Carolina 384-342, but that advantage was negated by the lengthy list of Wildcat miscues.
Woodson lost two fumbles, including one on a lateral, and both were returned for touchdowns by South Carolina sophomore defensive end Eric Norwood. Woodson also threw a costly pick at the South Carolina 2-yard line that stopped a Wildcat scoring threat.
Even when Kentucky made good plays, they often negated them with mistakes.
Sophomore cornerback Trevard Lindley helped UK dodge disaster on the first drive of the game when he punched the ball out of the clutches of South Carolina tight end tight end Weslye Saunders at the 2-yard line after a 48-yard gain. The ball skipped out of the end zone, which resulted in a touchback and gave Kentucky the ball at the 20.
But on UK's second play from scrimmage, Woodson was sacked by Jonathan Williams at the 10-yard line. The ball squirted loose, and Norwood recovered the fumble at the 2 and fell in the end zone for a score. It was almost an exact replica of a 16-yard fumble return by Arkansas early in the first quarter two weeks ago.
"We get a break when Trevard makes a great play to prevent a touchdown, and then we turn around and give the touchdown right back," Brooks said.
Brooks said the South Carolina pressure took its toll on Woodson, who was sacked three times.
"We just turned a guy flat loose (on the fumble)," Brooks said. "And we're so used to (Woodson) not ever throwing interceptions, but those things are going to happen."
The Wildcats would eventually tie the game at 10 when Woodson hit tight end Jacob Tamme for an 18-yard TD with 12:13 left in the second quarter. And it looked as if UK was about to take the lead until Woodson tried to hit Tamme but was picked off by Captain Munnerlyn at the Gamecock's 2-yard line.
"They did a good job of disguising their coverages," Woodson said. "They were playing man, and (Munnerlyn) jumped off of Keenan (Burton) and stepped in front of (Tamme)."
The Cats got a scare when Woodson's head collided with one of Dicky Lyons Jr.'s knees. But Woodson, who was wobbly when he left the field, returned on UK's next series.
The Gamecocks had a 10-play, 89-yard drive late in the first half to take a 17-10 lead into the locker room.
Kentucky had a nice drive going to start the third quarter but once again imploded. Woodson tried to dump the ball to fullback John Conner while being tackled by South Carolina defender Casper Brinkley, but the ball was thrown at Conner's feet behind the line of scrimmage, and Norwood picked up the lateral and bolted 53 yards for a score to give the Gamecocks a 24-10 lead at the 13:03 mark of the third quarter.
"I tried to hurry and avoid the sack, but they got to me before I could follow through on the pass," Woodson said. "My mistakes were 21 points, and that was a big turning point in the game."
After Seiber connected on a 41-yard field goal to bring UK to within 24-13, the UK defense held, and the Wildcats appeared headed for good field position until Rafael Little muffed a punt at midfield.
The defense continued to keep the Cats in the game, however. Defensive end Jeremy Jarmon had a pair of sacks, and South Carolina went the entire third quarter without a first down and was held to minus-15 yards.
"The defense looked as good as any in the country in the third quarter," Brooks said. "We were unbelievable."
But the offense continued to come up short. The Wildcats had first-and-goal at the South Carolina 8, but Little fumbled the handoff on a third-and-goal carry from the 5 when he appeared to have a clear lane into the end zone. Instead, UK was forced to settle for another Seiber field goal and a 24-16 deficit with 14:50 remaining.
The South Carolina defense seemed to recharge in the fourth quarter while the UK 'D' appeared to run out of gas.
The Gamecocks drove 62 yards in eight plays and took a 31-16 lead on a Chris Smelley 7-yard pass to Patrick DiMarco at 11:01.
Kentucky closed to within 31-23 on a 6-yard TD from Woodson to Steve Johnson with 6:59 remaining, but there would be no fourth-quarter comebacks for the Cats this time around. South Carolina quickly marched downfield an added an insurance score on a 27-yard scoring pass from Smelley to Cory Boyd with 3:28 left.
At 3-1 in the SEC with wins over Georgia and Kentucky, the Gamecocks now sit in the early driver's seat in the SEC East. The loss ended a six-game winning streak for UK (5-1, 1-1) dating back to last season, and now the Cats must get ready for top-ranked Louisiana State two Saturdays from now.
Brooks admitted he was concerned about how his team would bounce back.
"I worry because we had a chance to be 2-0 (in the SEC), and instead we're 1-1," Brooks said. "Now we're clearly way back in the pack, and we have to go play LSU and Florida. We've just got to roll up our sleeves and go to work. I still believe we're a good football team, but we just made way too many mistakes."
* Norwood tied an NCAA record with his two fumble return TDs. Three other players accomplished the feat, including Louisville Male graduate and former Notre Dame defensive back Tony Driver.
* Woodson became the third player in UK history to eclipse 7,000 passing yards.
* Tamme became the 18th UK receiver to reach the 1,000-yard mark on his first-quarter touchdown catch.
* Punter Tim Masthay drilled a career-high 63-yard punt in the second quarter.
Date story ran: Friday, October 05, 2007