UK Football

Kentucky's 'uphill' climb gets more steep vs. South Carolina

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips, left, and the Wildcats will face South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks today in Columbia, S.C.
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips, left, and the Wildcats will face South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks today in Columbia, S.C.

Coaches are not patient people.

Maybe even less patient than the fans.

That's what made Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter's statement stick out.

"Hopefully, if all things balance out in life, somewhere along the way we've got a good day coming someday," Minter said after Florida dropped UK 38-0 last week at The Swamp.

"But right now we're still battling uphill. It's a process right now for us. You don't want to hear that, but it's a process. We're really, really young. Our guys are trying really, really hard."

Statements like that have echoed from players and coaches for the past couple weeks as the Cats have stumbled to a 1-3 record.

Coach Joker Phillips conceded this week that it's possible for his team to keep making strides, to keep improving on both sides of the ball, but still lose to an impressive, unbeaten sixth-ranked South Carolina team on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Definitely," he said. "I mean this is a grown man's league. We can improve, but everybody else is improving also.

"The thing we have to do is continue to see how much we can improve and continue to get this football team better. They're trying to do the same thing. We've just got to try to match them."

Not that those inside Kentucky's locker room were ready to concede anything to the Gamecocks, who they upset here just two seasons ago when South Carolina was flying high just like it is now, having won eight straight games dating back to last season.

"Hopefully we can do the same thing when they come in here to Commonwealth and we're able to go out there and put one on them and kind of shock the world a little bit," center Matt Smith said. "That's what we're always playing for every week. That's what we're going to be looking forward to this week."

South Carolina's players are opting to forget.

"It's been talked about," linebacker Quin Smith said. "It's in the past, but we are taking precautions that we have our best game when we go down there."

The Gamecocks would prefer instead to remember the feeling from payback at South Carolina last season. In that 54-3 win, Coach Steve Spurrier's team put up 639 yards of total offense and limited UK to 96, including just 17 passing yards. UK turned the ball over six times.

"It's one of the biggest losses I've ever been a part of in all of my football career," Smith said. "It's something we remember and it's something we're going to remember going into this game."

Spurrier, whose Gamecocks are 4-0 overall, 2-0 in the SEC, said it's hard to tell how good his team is based on the schedule so far.

"We haven't played a team with a winning record," he said. "I think all of you know that so we don't know how good we are, just like a lot of teams don't know."

On paper, South Carolina looks dominant, outscoring opponents 145-39. Opponents are averaging just 2 yards per run and haven't scored a rushing TD against the Gamecocks.

Offensively, South Carolina has scored touchdowns in 11 of its 16 trips to the red zone (69 percent) and is starting to hit its groove after slow starts from stars like quarterback Connor Shaw, who completed 20 straight passes against Missouri, and Marcus Lattimore, who has scored six touchdowns.

But Spurrier still seems unconvinced.

"We've beaten the teams that we're supposed to beat," he said. "We know that the meat of the schedule is down the road."

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