John Clay

The UK rush is on to pressure Gamecocks

Put your finger on one reason why Kentucky has never ever beaten Steve Spurrier — not in 15 years, not at Florida, not at South Carolina, not when he was an up-and-coming coach, not when he was a sage genius, not even in the twinkling twilight of his career — and it is this:

Pass rush.

No pass rush, to be exact.

From Shane Matthews to Danny "Heisman Trophy" Wuerffel to Jessie "The Bachelor" Palmer at Florida through even Blake Mitchell at South Carolina, when facing Kentucky, Spurrier's quarterbacks have sat back in their rocking chairs waiting for receivers to find an opening (didn't take long) before delivering that death spiral.

This year, however, it might be different.

This year, Kentucky has a pass rush.

"Best pass rush I've had since I've been here," said UK Coach Rich Brooks.

Ask Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, who despite attempting just 17 passes in leading the Tide to a 17-14 victory over the Cats last Saturday, was sacked three times.

Ask the Alabama offensive line, which (at least) twice more on passing plays had to reach out and grab a pass-rushing Wildcat to keep Wilson from getting his uniform dirty again. Three times the Tide were called for offensive holding, twice on pass plays, once on a run.

Look at the national stats, where UK is second in the nation in pass efficiency defense, surely a happy by-product of a front four (ends Ventrell Jenkins and Jeremy Jarmon, along with tackles Corey Peters and Myron Pryor) that has spent considerable time harassing the quarterback.

"It's been good," defensive coordinator Steve Brown said when asked about his sack attack. "The nice thing about it is, we've got a group of guys who work well together. They communicate. They watch film. They're pretty studious as far as knowing what they're looking at. And it's going to be vital Saturday."

Last week, Alabama ran the ball to set up the pass. Nick Saban's square jaw and all that. With its blue-chip offensive line, Bama lulls defenses into overcommitting to the run, biting on the play-action, then being scorched by the over-the-top pass, usually to monster freshman Julio Jones.

As always, Spurrier goes against the grain. He does run the football. But he uses his first love, throwing the football, to set up the run. The Gamecocks have thrown a league-most 206 passes in six games.

Last Saturday at Mississippi, Chris Smelley was simply stellar, throwing for a career-high 327 yards and three touchdowns to earn Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"We finally did a little bit last week, but not a whole lot," said Spurrier on the SEC teleconference Wednesday. "We had our first 400-yard game of the season. We are struggling up here, but there are some other boys struggling more than we are in the SEC."

Spurrier has rarely struggled against the Cats, of course. Even at South Carolina, his teams have scored 44, 24 and 38 points against Kentucky. Last year, Carolina threw for 256 yards in the 15-point win in Columbia.

But that was last year, when Kentucky registered 24 sacks in the 13-game season. This year, through five games, UK already has a dozen.

"It's not always all about sacks," Brooks pointed out. "It's about disrupting the timing of the quarterback and pressuring him and getting hits on him and hurrying his decision-making process."

Ole Miss was able to apply some pressure on Smelley. Spurrier groused earlier this week that, "We open the gates too many times."

And how important is it that Kentucky's pass rushers get through those gates this week, of all weeks.

Said Brooks, "It's critically important this week."