UK Football

Kentucky football at South Carolina: How they match up and a game prediction

Boom Williams broke free for a touchdown on UK's first possession against Louisiana Lafayette.
Boom Williams broke free for a touchdown on UK's first possession against Louisiana Lafayette.

How UK and South Carolina matchup for the game in Columbia, S.C.:

QUARTERBACKS

Patrick Towles reignited concerns about whether he is an accurate enough passer to be an Air Raid quarterback by completing only 16 of 34 passes last week against Louisiana- Lafayette. A year ago in Kentucky's 45-38 win over South Carolina, the Highlands product hit on 20 of 29 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. South Carolina's Connor Mitch turned in a so-so effort in his first start, going 9-for-22 passing for 122 yards and one touchdown in a 17-13 escape against North Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound redshirt sophomore suffered a hip pointer against UNC but is expected to play against UK.

Advantage: Kentucky

RUNNING BACKS

Sophomore Stanley "Boom" Williams averaged 13.5 yards on 10 carries (135 yards net) in Kentucky's season-opening victory, while classmate Mikel Horton rumbled 12 yards for the game-winning TD with 57 seconds left. Running mostly from The Wildcat formation, Jojo Kemp (131 yards, three TDs) was a hero of UK's 45-38 upset of South Carolina last season. South Carolina also has three capable backs. Brandon Wilds, a 6-2, 220-pound redshirt senior, had 51 yards rushing and 44 yards receiving in the opener. He also has a bruised shoulder. David Williams, a 6-1, 220-pound redshirt sophomore, ran for 42 yards vs. UNC. A 5-8, 206-pound redshirt senior, Shon Carson ran for 75 yards — including 48 yards for the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter — against the Tar Heels.

Advantage: Even

WIDE RECEIVERS

UK's young wideouts were a positive in week one. Sophomores Garrett Johnson (five catches, 85 yards, a TD), Dorian Baker (three catches, 50 yards) and Blake Bone (three catches, 34 yards, a TD) were all effective. South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper has Randall Cobb qualities. The 5-11, 207-pound junior from Havelock, N.C., ran the ball four times, caught three passes (including a TD) and threw two passes (completing one) against North Carolina. Last year, Cooper was third in the SEC in receptions (69) and second in receiving yards (1,136) and also threw two TD passes. The status of two other primary South Carolina wideouts, Deebo Samuel (hamstring) and Terry Googer (thigh bruise), is uncertain due to injuries.

Advantage: Even

TIGHT ENDS

UK true freshman C.J. Conrad had no passes thrown to him last week, but Mark Stoops lavishly praised his blocking. "Most of our explosive runs, he was in there," Stoops said. South Carolina's Jerell Adams caught two passes last week and also recovered a fumble. For his career, the 6-6, 231-pound senior has 40 catches.

Advantage: South Carolina

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Kentucky senior left guard Zach West, a Lexington Christian product, had a key block that sprang Stanley "Boom" Williams on his 75-yard TD jaunt last week. In his first career start, true freshman right tackle George Asafo-Adjei "did some good things, but he had some things you would expect a true freshman tackle to go through," Stoops said. South Carolina senior tackle Brandon Shell made his 37th career start against North Carolina. The 6-6, 328-pound product of Goose Creek, S.C., has flipped this season from right tackle to left. He joins center Alan Knott and right guard Will Sport as returning starters.

Advantage: South Carolina

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Kentucky senior nose guard Melvin Lewis had nine tackles, including a game-altering tackle for loss in the fourth period, against Lousiana-Lafayette. South Carolina nose tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. has made 16 career starts and is the older half-brother of Gamecocks backup defensive end Gerald G. Dixon. Their father, Gerald Dixon Sr., is a former South Carolina player.

Advantage: South Carolina

LINEBACKERS

Kentucky middle linebacker Josh Forrest made 15 tackles against Lafayette. The Paducah Tilghman product also had 15 tackles last season against South Carolina. UK is hopeful senior weakside linebacker Ryan Flannigan will be able to play this week after missing the opener with a shoulder injury. South Carolina MLB Skai Moore is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week. The 6-2, 218-pound junior from Cooper City, Fla., had 10 tackles and intercepted two passes in the end zone against North Carolina.

Advantage: South Carolina

SECONDARY

Backup cornerback J.D. Harmon was one of UK's standouts in its victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, forcing a fumble, intercepting a pass and making six tackles. Last year against South Carolina, UK safety A.J. Stamps made seven tackles and returned an interception 50 yards. South Carolina's safeties were active against North Carolina. Strong safety Jordan Diggs had an interception and four tackles, while free safety Isaiah Johnson made five tackles and broke up a pass. The Gamecocks gave up 232 passing yards against UNC.

Advantage: South Carolina

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis missed his first career PAT and also saw his streak of 11 straight made field goals come to an end against Lafayette. UK kickoff returners Sihiem King and J.D. Harmon combined to average 31.8 yards on four returns, good for second in the SEC last week. South Carolina kickoff specialist Landon Ard had touchbacks on all four of his kicks vs. UNC. Punter Sean Kelly averaged 46.2 yards on five punts, including two he stopped inside the 20. Pharoh Cooper is a weapon on punt returns.

Advantage: South Carolina

PREDICTION

South Carolina 34, Kentucky 28

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