Not much has separated the South Carolina and Kentucky football programs the past 31/2 seasons. The Gamecocks have won 25 games, the Wildcats 23. Both have made two bowl appearances.
The most glaring difference is the head-to-head competition. South Carolina's eight-game winning streak in the series has been well-documented, but the Gamecocks haven't totally outclassed the Cats the way other Southeastern Conference teams have over the years.
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South Carolina has gained control in recent years thanks in large part to UK's inability to hold on to the ball.
In 2005, five UK turnovers paved the way to a 44-16 South Carolina runaway. The Wildcats fumbled on three straight possessions to turn a 10-10 halftime score into a rout.
The Cats and Gamecocks went into last year's game undefeated and nationally ranked, but UK dug itself an early hole when South Carolina's Eric Norwood recovered an Andre Woodson fumble on Kentucky's first series for a touchdown.
Then, with the teams tied at 10 late in the second quarter, Woodson drove Kentucky to the Gamecocks' 9 only to throw an interception. In the third quarter, Woodson's lateral attempt to fullback John Conner was muffed, and Norwood scooped it up and ran 53 yards for another TD and a 24-10 lead. Norwood's two fumble-return touchdowns matched an NCAA record.
UK outgained South Carolina 384-342 for the game but was ultimately done in by the miscues.
"It's been frustrating," UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon said. "We've had chances the past couple of years to beat these guys, and something always happens. Fumbles, missed tackles, things like that, and they've been able to beat us."
The two teams appear to be evenly matched again this year, but Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks is hoping the Wildcats can win the turnover battle this time around.
"Last year the turnovers were huge," Brooks said. "We've had a propensity to turn the ball over against South Carolina. We need to not do that this week."
Turnovers also cost Kentucky an opportunity to knock off No. 2 Alabama last Saturday. The Crimson Tide had three miscues compared to the Cats' two, but Alabama scored a touchdown off a fumble by quarterback Mike Hartline while UK could generate no points from the mistakes it forced.
"The problem we had last week is that we didn't take advantage of our takeaways, and they took advantage of theirs," Brooks said.
Kentucky comes into the game with a clear advantage in turnover margin. The Cats are third in the SEC at plus-5, having forced 12 turnovers while committing just seven. The Gamecocks have forced 11 turnovers but have committed a league-high 16.
South Carolina has also thrown the most interceptions of any SEC team (12), and Kentucky is hoping to dominate what has been a shaky Gamecocks offensive line in order to get pressure on quarterback Chris Smelley. The Gamecocks' 20 sacks allowed are just one fewer than league-worst Arkansas.
"You look at a number of interceptions that (Smelley) has thrown, a lot of times it's because he's under duress," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said. "I don't think he sits back there as comfortably as he'd like. It's going to be important for our D-linemen to get a feel for their offensive line and pressure him. If they can't do it by themselves, we'll apply some pressure with blitzes."