Mark Story

Blue Preview: A guide to Kentucky football’s SEC opener at South Carolina

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, conferred with South Carolina head man Will Muschamp before the Wildcats’ 17-10 victory over the Gamecocks in Lexington last season. On Saturday night, Stoops will try to lead UK to its fourth straight win over South Carolina.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, conferred with South Carolina head man Will Muschamp before the Wildcats’ 17-10 victory over the Gamecocks in Lexington last season. On Saturday night, Stoops will try to lead UK to its fourth straight win over South Carolina.

Kentucky at South Carolina

When: 7:30 p.m, Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play, Tom Hart; analysis, Jordan Rodgers; sideline, Cole Cubelic)

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Former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers was the winner in August 2016, when “The Bachelorette,” Jojo Fletcher, chose him for her final rose. Now working as a color analyst on SEC Network football telecasts, Rodgers will be working Saturday night’s Kentucky-South Carolina game. Heidi Gutman ABC

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 191, Sirius Channel 138

Records: Kentucky 2-0 (0-0 SEC), South Carolina 2-0 (1-0 SEC)

Series: South Carolina leads 17-10-1 but Kentucky has won three in a row

Last meeting: Kentucky won 17-10 on Sept. 24, 2016, in Lexington

Line: South Carolina is favored by 7 points

The story line

Having beaten South Carolina the prior three seasons, Kentucky enters SEC play on the road trying to beat a conference foe not named Vanderbilt for a fourth consecutive year for the first time since Bear Bryant’s Wildcats vanquished Florida in 1948, ’49, ’50 and ’51.

On the spot

Kentucky kickoff coverage team. After a stellar special teams showing in UK’s season-opening victory at Southern Mississippi, the story was not quite so happy in Kentucky’s closer-than-it-should-have been victory over Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats’ kickoff coverage team had an especially difficult go, allowing EKU’s L.J. Scott to average 35.3 yards on four kickoff returns. That has to be better this week because South Carolina leads the SEC in kickoff returning.

At his weekly press conference, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was told he looked "jolly" at the podium. Stoops didn't know quite what to make of that.

The big threat

Deebo Samuel. The 6-foot, 215-pound junior wide receiver from Inman, S.C., gives South Carolina a multi-threat weapon. Samuel is tied for the Gamecocks’ team lead with 10 receptions (for a team-best 128 receiving yards) and has caught two touchdown passes. On two carries from scrimmage, Samuel has averaged 15 yards and has scored a rushing TD. He is most dangerous (see category above) as a kickoff returner. Samuel has returned two, and he’s taken both to the house, one each against North Carolina State and Missouri. If Kentucky can contain Samuel, it can beat South Carolina. Easier said than done, however.

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South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in both of the Gamecocks’ 2017 wins over North Carolina State and Missouri. Tim Dominick The State Media Company

The mood

It is not jolly — in spite of the fact Kentucky has won nine of its last 13 games. The announced crowd (54,868) at last week’s home opener was well below capacity. UK’s so-so offensive performances in beating Southern Mississippi and Eastern Kentucky have not built a lot of excitement in the Kentucky fan base. Winning an SEC road game by beating South Carolina for a fourth straight year, however, would gin up some fan energy. If it happens, the Big Blue Nation will be stoked for Florida’s visit to Lexington on Sept. 23.

Kentucky sophomore running back Benny Snell talks about the bruised ribs he suffered last week against Eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky true freshman receiver Lynn Bowden, the program's most heralded recruit in 2017, talked to the media for the first time on Tuesday.

It has been a frustrating start for heralded Kentucky true freshman Lynn Bowden. Head coach Mark Stoops said the wide receiver will get his chance soon.

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