UK Football

How Kentucky and South Carolina match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky true freshman Benny Snell dove into the end zone for one of the four touchdowns he scored against New Mexico State.
Kentucky true freshman Benny Snell dove into the end zone for one of the four touchdowns he scored against New Mexico State.

How Kentucky and South Carolina match up at every position:

Quarterbacks

With Drew Barker sidelined by a back injury, Stephen Johnson II will make his first Kentucky start Saturday. In relief of an injured Barker vs. New Mexico State, Johnson was stellar (17-of-22 passing for 310 yards and three TDs; 51 yards rushing). True freshman Gunnar Hoak is now the UK backup. In South Carolina’s 20-15 win over East Carolina, Brandon McIlwain became only the fourth true freshman QB to start for the Gamecocks since they joined the SEC (1992). A dual-threat, the 6-foot, 205-pound product of Newtown, Pa., was efficient vs. ECU, passing 16-of-28 for 195 yards with no interceptions and running for two TDs. Senior Perry Orth (20-of-36 for 236 yards with one interception this season) provides experience.

Advantage: Even

Running backs

UK’s Boom Williams fought off an elbow injury and ran for 181 yards and a TD against New Mexico State. True freshman Benny Snell (136 yards, four TDs on 17 carries) gave Kentucky a physical complement to the fleet Williams. Senior Jojo Kemp missed last week with an ankle injury but has a history of big games against South Carolina. Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner is South Carolina’s leading rusher (115 yards) but is averaging only 3.3 yards a carry. Junior David Williams ran for 67 yards against East Carolina.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Speedy UK junior Jeff Badet (six catches, 206 yards, 68.7 yards a game) is seventh in the SEC in receiving yards a game. Franklin County product Ryan Timmons got his senior season untracked with four catches against New Mexico State. Junior Garrett Johnson (nine catches) remains Kentucky’s leading receiver. South Carolina true freshman Bryan Edwards has the look of an emerging star (15 catches, 208 yards). No other Gamecocks wide-out has caught more than four passes.

Advantage: Kentucky

Tight ends

After catching one pass in Kentucky’s first two games, sophomore C.J. Conrad exploded for five catches, 133 yards and three TDs vs. New Mexico State. Will be interesting to see if UK can keep the tight end involved in the offense. South Carolina tight ends Hayden Hurst (12 catches, 128 yards) and K.C. Crosby (eight, 51, one TD) are a core part of the Gamecocks’ attack.

Advantage: South Carolina

Offensive line

Landon Young, the five-star recruit from Lafayette High School, made his first career start at left tackle in place of an injured Cole Mosier against New Mexico State. Young drew praise from Mark Stoops for his play. Against NMSU, UK made heavier use of backup guards Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings, a redshirt sophomore, and Logan Stenberg, a redshirt freshman. Massive South Carolina left tackle Mason Zandi, a 6-9, 315 pounder, is the only senior on the Gamecocks offense who started his career at Carolina as a scholarship player. Center Cory Helms, a 6-4, 310-pound junior, was a freshman All-American at Wake Forest before transferring.

Advantage: Kentucky

Defensive line

UK senior DT Courtney Miggins has the unusual distinction for a lineman of being tied for 10th in the SEC with three pass breakups. Mark Stoops continues to single out true freshman end T.J. Carter as a player showing promise. Three South Carolina defensive linemen — ends Darius English and D.J. Wonnum and tackle Keir Thomas — had quarterback sacks vs. East Carolina. The Gamecocks go two-deep across the defensive front.

Advantage: South Carolina

Linebackers

Kentucky WLB Jordan Jones had “only” seven tackles against NMSU, but continues to lead the SEC with 35 tackles. South Carolina SLB T.J. Holloman has 21 tackles, MLB Jonathan Walton has 20 and WLB Bryson Allen-Williams has three tackles for loss.

Advantage: South Carolina

Defensive backs

Kentucky strong safety Mike Edwards had a big game against NMSU with 12 tackles, one TFL and three pass breakups. Mark Stoops said Blake McClain was likely to move back to nickel back with former starter Marcus McWilson reclaiming the free safety role. South Carolina CB Chris Lammons has both a sack and an interception in 2016; safety D.J. Smith has 19 tackles, 16 solo.

Advantage: South Carolina

Special teams

Kentucky’s Charles Walker returned a punt 65 yards for a TD last week, UK’s first punt-return score since 2010. UK is third in the SEC in kickoff coverage. Cats’ place-kicker Austin MacGinnis has yet to make a field goal in 2016 and missed a PAT vs. NMSU. South Carolina place-kicker Elliott Fry boomed a 55-yard field goal to beat Vanderbilt in the season opener. He’s 4-of-5 on field goals this season, and has made 129 straight extra points. South Carolina leads the SEC in kickoff returns, averaging 35.5 yards on four returns.

Advantage: South Carolina

Game prediction

South Carolina 26, Kentucky 24

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