One of the many games within the game to watch on Saturday will be how well Kentucky performs on third down.
Something has to give statistically when No. 17 Kentucky takes on South Carolina at Kroger Field.
The Gamecocks’ defense is fourth nationally and the Southeastern Conference leader on third down, allowing just eight conversions on 33 attempts (24.2 percent) by opponents.
“They’ve been incredible on third down, so you’ve got to win some third down matchups,” Coach Mark Stoops said of South Carolina. “We have to convert some third downs offensively.”
Specifically, South Carolina is winning a lot of one-on-one matchups against opponents and forcing teams into long yardage situations in general.
But Kentucky’s offense hasn’t exactly been shabby on third downs, converting 51.1 percent of its tries this season, good enough for No. 14 in the country and third-best in the league.
“They are very efficient because they manage for third down,” Gamecocks Coach Will Muschamp said of UK, which is averaging 6.5 yards per run on first downs alone, which helps when third down rolls around.
“They make it very difficult for you to get off the field. They don’t give you a lot of negative plays on offense so they are not in a lot of bad down and distance situations.”
So what does South Carolina do so well on third down?
The Gamecocks have big, athletic interior defensive linemen who understand their jobs and do them well, Cats center Drake Jackson said.
“They do a good job of mixing things up,” UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “They mix things up in coverages. They mix things up in their blitzes.”
Prowess on third down was one of the reasons UK was able to win its fourth in a row over the Gamecocks last season. The Cats connected on nine of 16 tries (56.3 percent) on third down.