Mark Story

Blue Preview: Your guide to Kentucky’s football game at South Carolina

Kentucky at South Carolina

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 28)

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (capacity 80,250)

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

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 113, Internet Channel 966.

Records: Kentucky (2-2, 0-2 SEC); South Carolina (1-3, 0-2 SEC)

Series history: South Carolina leads 17-12-1, but Kentucky has won five in a row.

Last meeting: Kentucky defeated South Carolina 24-10 on Sept. 29, 2018, at Kroger Field.

Favorite: South Carolina is favored by three points.

The story line

For the second week in a row, Kentucky will go on the road to face a team 1.) in desperate need for a victory; 2.) that has ample reason to be motivated to beat UK. Last week, Kentucky failed to match Mississippi State’s zeal and took a dispiriting 28-13 defeat. Now, UK is facing a South Carolina team off to a poor start and with a brutal schedule ahead. The Wildcats will have to play match the Gamecocks’ “edge” if they are to extend their win streak over Will Muschamp’s crew to six straight.

The big threat

Ryan Hilinski. South Carolina’s true freshman quarterback was pressed into starting duties after veteran Jake Bentley suffered a season-ending foot injury in the Gamecocks’ unexpected opening-game loss to North Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound product of Orange, Calif., struggled last week at Missouri in his first SEC road start, going 13-for-30 passing and having both an interception and a fumble returned for touchdowns in a 34-13 loss. But Hilinski has thrown the ball well in both his home starts, going 24 of 30 for 282 yards and two touchdowns vs. overmatched Charleston Southern and, more impressively, completing 36 of 57 while throwing for 324 yards and two scores vs. No. 2 Alabama.

Ryan Hilinski passing vs Alabama.JPG
South Carolina true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski has completed 62.4 percent of his passes this season for 772 yards with five touchdowns vs. three interceptions. Richard Shiro AP

On the spot

The Kentucky defense. The Wildcats’ “D” has had a rough go facing backup quarterbacks in recent weeks. After Florida starter Feleipe Franks was knocked out of the game with an injury two weeks ago, backup Kyle Trask completed nine of 13 passes and helped UF rally from 21-10 down to a 29-21 win. With injured Mississippi State starting QB Tommy Stevens unable to play last week, backup Garrett Shrader shredded the Cats, completing 17 of 22 passes for 180 yards and running for 125 yards. At South Carolina, the Wildcats will catch another backup QB (see above) and a talented receiving corps led by wideout Bryan Edwards (21 catches, 311 yards, three TDs). This week, can UK finally slow down a backup QB?

LEX_190921UKfootballas06.JPG
Kentucky defenders Jamari Brown (32) and Calvin Taylor (91) tried to corral Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader during the Wildcats’ 28-13 loss last week. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

The mood

Has turned sour fast. After an encouraging 2-0 start, UK has blown a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to lose to Florida and turned in a flat, sluggish showing against a middling Mississippi State team. Whatever the outcome at South Carolina, UK will still have a viable chance at a fourth straight winning season. But a third straight loss will create the challenge of overcoming a wave of negativity cresting around the Kentucky program.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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