UK linebacker Kash Daniel delivered a big hit in the second half of the Wildcats’ 24-10 victory over South Carolina, and the Kentucky defense will pay the price for it next weekend.
Daniel was ejected in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game after being called for a targeting penalty following his shoulder block on Gamecocks tight end Jacob August during an interception return by UK teammate Darius West, who had already run out of bounds at the time of Daniel’s contact with August.
As a result of the play, Daniel will be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.
“Kash, he’s bummed out with himself,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said. “There was nothing malicious about that. He didn’t mean to target somebody. It was very, very close, from what I could tell, and so it’s disappointing. But again, teaching moment for us about peel back blocks and all that stuff.”
August was slowly trailing several yards behind West on the interception return when Daniel launched into him near the South Carolina sideline. There didn’t appear to be any helmet contact — Daniel led with his shoulder and didn’t hit August in the neck or head area — but he was called for targeting on the field and that ruling was confirmed after a lengthy video review.
Lead referee Lee Hedrick announced that Daniel had been ejected from the game, and the sold-out Kroger Field crowd erupted in boos.
Before leaving the field, the boisterous Daniel exchanged chest bumps with fellow defensive leaders Josh Allen and Jordan Jones on the UK sideline, trying to pump up his teammates before heading to the tunnel.
Allen grinned when asked what Daniel was saying in that exchange.
“I don’t think I can say that on camera,” he said. “But he was giving me some advice, I’ll tell you that.”
At the time of the incident — 3:12 remaining in the third quarter — UK was leading the Gamecocks, 24-10, and Daniel was leading the Cats with five tackles. The junior linebacker came into the game as the team’s leader with 32 tackles on the season.
Jones said Daniel was telling his teammates to stay focused before he left the field.
“It was a BS call,” Jones said. “Football is football. And he just wanted to make sure that we weren’t down because he wasn’t in. He wanted us to keep fighting and keep doing it, and we did that today.”
Redshirt freshman Jamin Davis is listed as Daniel’s backup at middle linebacker on the depth chart, but it was true freshmen Chris Oats and DeAndre Squarewho filled in for him after Saturday night’s ejection. Oats finished with four tackles, and Square had one.
“They responded real well,” Jones said. “We still have some things to clean up, obviously, but for two freshmen to come in and play the way they did — to secure the ‘W’ like that — it’s big time, man.”
The Cats will need them — and whoever else plays in place of Daniel — to carry that momentum over to the first half of their next game against Texas A&M, which is likely to be favored on its home field Saturday night.
“It’s tough. They can do it though,” Jones said. “Chris and DeAndre … they handle their business off the field. They handle their business when they’re in here. I have a lot of confidence in them, so I think they’ll be good.
“We need Kash, man. Kash is really the leader of the defense. When he’s not there, everything — it can’t be like that though. Everyone has to learn how to move on and still be able to play. Because stuff happens. It’s football. People get kicked out. People get hurt. We just gotta make sure that the next man is ready to go when the time comes.”
Once Daniel was finished shouting words of encouragement to his teammates, he walked off the field and saluted the cheering UK fans before he went into the tunnel. Immediately after the game, he was right back on the field — wearing a gray UK sweatshirt — celebrating with Jones and other Wildcats as they headed back to the locker room.
“We love Kash. We play for him,” Allen said. “We knew what we were going to do. And when I got in the locker room, he gave me the biggest hug ever.”