Kentucky found a way to win.
It wasn’t always the prettiest, most scenic way, but it was a win nonetheless, ts third straight over South Carolina, 17-10 on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
And unlike past wins when one side of the ball seemingly had to carry the other side bloody and gashed to the finish line, there was a balance of good plays for the offense, defense and special teams.
That made it perhaps the most important win, Coach Mark Stoops and his players said.
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“Feels good to just get a good, collective team win,” running back Boom Williams said on a night when he ran for 123 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.
Williams was a part of a UK running attack that put up 216 yards against South Carolina, helping to wear the Gamecocks down late in the game behind the play of true freshman Benny Snell, who at one time ran it seven straight times as part of a pass-free 11-play drive.
“It was a good one-two punch,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of the Boom and Benny show. “We got some big plays with Boom and right now it’s a good combination.”
With fresh legs, Snell was able to take a direct snap for the go-ahead score with 10:21 to play.
“When I first got the ball, I didn’t really see anything in the middle, but I saw a little something on the outside, so I bounced it and it was one on one,” said Snell, who had 16 carries for 73 yards and the 1-yard scoring run. “I took the chance on the one on one and tried to win it and I did.”
Kentucky’s offense wasn’t the only one winning its one on ones.
The defense did its share, too, holding South Carolina to 268 yards of offense and a season-low 10 points.
All of that came after a stern talking to from Stoops on Wednesday and being the butt of a joke earlier that morning on ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
“We really wanted to get to .500 going to Alabama and this is a big confidence boost,” said Denzil Ware, who had the final sack for a loss of 19 yards that ended South Carolina’s chance for a game-tying score with less 2:30 to play. “I’m happy just to get the win.”
South Carolina was forced to punt on seven of its first eight possessions, and the UK defense forced three straight punts for the first time this season. The Gamecocks were held to 268 total yards, well below the 500 or more the UK defense had allowed in each of the first three games.
The Cats had season highs of six tackles for loss and four sacks, two of each coming from Ware.
Stoops was happy to see offense, defense and special teams perform well. It helped cleanse the palate going into a difficult game at Alabama next weekend.
“Again, it wasn't the start we wanted, but we can't change the past, but we can learn from our mistakes and push on,” Stoops said of UK’s 0-2 start. “We're excited to get on to the next opportunity.”
It was a struggle to score early, but eventually, UK’s offense found enough of a rhythm to grab a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on Austin MacGinnis’ 30-yard field goal.
“We weren’t able to get going for a while,” Williams said. “We sat on three (points) for the longest and those guys played their butts off. … Our defense came out and played a great game. They’re a major part of this win.”
On the Gamecocks’ first four drives, they managed a combined 42 yards, but they nearly doubled that on their next drive, going 80 yards in 10 plays to go up 7-3 on a 12-yard run by A.J. Turner with 5:44 to go in the first half.
After one half, the two teams were nearly identical in yardage (164 for South Carolina and 155 for Kentucky) and time of possession.
The Kentucky offense found itself to start the second quarter, using a two tight end set to spring Williams on the left side and set up a 43-yard run, including breaking a late tackle to get to the end zone.
Turnover problems continued to plague the Kentucky offense, including an interception by Stephen Johnson that stalled a promising drive midway through the third quarter. It was the Cats’ 12th miscue of the year, but the UK defense held up.
Coming into the game, only Kansas was more turnover prone than UK this season with 11. Opponents had scored 40 percent of their points off of UK mistakes.
After Kentucky (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter, it was able to hold the lead, something that had been a struggle early this season. The Cats amassed 351 yards of offense in the victory, their second straight.
South Carolina (2-2, 1-1) will have to wait until next season to try and get its revenge. The Gamecocks weren’t happy with the way things ended at Commonwealth Stadium.
“Obviously we’re frustrated,” defensive back D.J. Smith said. “We’ve lost to Kentucky three years in a row. That’s no fun. ... We know we could have played better and we know we could have beat them.”
Kentucky at Alabama
7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)