Mark Story

How Kentucky and South Carolina match up — with a game prediction

How Kentucky (2-2, 0-2 SEC) and South Carolina (1-3, 0-2 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Sawyer Smith had a trying day in last week’s 28-13 loss at Mississippi State. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound junior thew a pick-six on UK’s first offensive possession. Smith completed only 15 of 41 passes — but Wildcats receivers also dropped at least three possible touchdown throws. Putting the capper on a challenging day, the graduate transfer from Troy came out of the game with his right (throwing) shoulder hurting. South Carolina true freshman Ryan Hilinski inherited the starting job after veteran Jake Bentley was knocked out for the season with a foot injury. The 6-3, 230-pound product of Orange, Calif., had a rough go in his first SEC road start in last week’s 34-14 loss at Missouri. Hilinski completed only 13 of 30 passes and had both an interception and a lost fumble returned for touchdowns. Hilinski has been good in both his home starts, however, completing 60 of 87 passes for an average of 303 passing yards per game.

Advantage: South Carolina

Ryan Hilinski passing vs Alabama.JPG
South Carolina true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski has averaged 303 passing yards per game in two home starts, including throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns in a 47-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama. Richard Shiro AP

Running backs

Kentucky junior A.J. Rose had his best game (105 yards on nine carries) of the season against Mississippi State. The strong showing allowed Rose to assume the UK team lead in rushing (307 yards) over redshirt freshman Kavosiey Smoke (282 yards) for the first time this season. South Carolina also utilizes a two-headed RB rotation. Senior Rico Dowdle (268 yards rushing, three TDs) ran for 44 yards vs. UK last season. Tavien Feaster (183 yards rushing, one TD; eight catches for 52 yards) is a graduate transfer from South Carolina’s archrival, Clemson.

Advantage: Kentucky

AJ Rose TD vs S Carolina in 2018.JPG
Kentucky running back A.J. Rose scored on a 24-yard run last year in UK's 24-10 victory over South Carolina at Kroger Field. Ken Weaver

Wide receivers

Kentucky’s two best wideouts, Lynn Bowden (27 catches, 330 yards, one TD) and Ahmad Wagner (10 catches, 213 yards, two TDs), each dropped potential touchdown catches at Mississippi State. Junior Josh Ali (five catches, 61 yards) had a strong game in Starkville. With Deebo Samuel now with the San Francisco 49ers, Bryan Edwards has emerged as South Carolina’s go-to receiver. A 6-3, 215-pound senior, Edwards has 21 catches for 311 yards and three TDs. Junior Shi Smith (16 catches, 190 yards, one TD) is also capable.

Advantage: South Carolina

Bryan Edwards.JPG
South Carolina wideout Bryan Edwards has caught 21 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Tracy Kimball tkimball@heraldonline.com

Tight ends

Against Florida two weeks ago, Kentucky’s Justin Rigg (five catches, 50 yards) and Keaton Upshaw (13-yard TD catch) were a productive part of the Wildcats’ passing game. The duo had no receptions, however, last week at MSU. South Carolina’s expected starter, Kiel Pollard, had to give up football when a cyst was discovered on his spinal cord in the preseason. Pollard’s replacements, junior Kyle Markway (14 catches, 172 yards, two TDs) and William & Mary transfer Nick Muse (eight catches, 68 yards), have been productive.

Advantage: Even

Keaton Upshaw.JPG
Kentucky tight end Keaton Upshaw (88) has six receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown this season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Offensive line

Left guard Logan Stenberg is one of Kentucky’s best players, noted for playing with an edge. As a senior, Stenberg has also been a magnet for personal-foul calls. Asked about Stenberg’s penalties, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said, “We have to get out of the personal games that are going on within the game. It does not help you win.” South Carolina revamped its offensive line after its surprise opening loss to North Carolina. After starting the season at left guard, senior Donell Stanley returned to center (where he started 12 games in 2018). He is the veteran anchor for a youngish line.

Advantage: Kentucky

Logan Stenberg vs Florida.JPG
One of Kentucky's better players, left guard Logan Stenberg has also been penalty prone in 2019. "We have to get out of the personal games that are going on within the game," UK Coach Mark Stoops said Monday. "It does not help you win.” Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

UK nose guards Quinton Bohanna (four tackles) and Marquan McCall (2 stops) were active at Mississippi State. Considered a possible NFL first-round draft choice, South Carolina tackle Javon Kinlaw leads the SEC in sacks (four) and fumble recoveries (two). End Aaron Sterling, a 6-1, 250-pound junior, made six tackles last season against UK.

Advantage: South Carolina

Javon Kinlaw.JPG
South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (3) is tied for the SEC lead in quarterback sacks with four. Mark Zaleski AP

Linebackers

Kentucky WLB DeAndre Square had nine tackles, 1.5 TLF and a sack last week vs. MSU. MLB Kash Daniel sat out the first quarter at State for disciplinary reasons after video appeared to show him deliberately twisting the ankle of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in a post-play pile two weeks ago. South Carolina WLB T.J. Brunson has 29 tackles this season; he had eight stops with two TFL vs. UK last season. Rush end/OLB D.J. Wonnum set up a Gamecocks TD last week with a 21-yard return of an interception.

Advantage: South Carolina

T.J. Brunson tackles Benny Snell.JPG
South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson (6) tackled Kentucky running back Benny Snell (26) during UK's 24-10 win over the Gamecocks at Kroger Field last season. Brunson made eight stops with two tackles for loss in the game. Gavin McIntyre gmcintyre@thestate.com

Defensive backs

Junior college transfers Brandin Echols and Quandre Mosely were Kentucky bright spots last week. Echols led UK with 10 tackles, including a sack, and also forced a fumble. Mosely made his first career interception. Statistically, South Carolina’s secondary (allowing 311.7 yards per game) is faring worse than UK’s (267.7) totally-revamped defensive backfield. But, unlike Coach Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks, Kentucky has not faced quarterbacks as good as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Missouri’s Kelly Bryant. Sophomore CB Jaycee Horn is leading the SEC in forced fumbles (two).

Advantage: Even

Bradnin Echols at Miss State.JPG
Kentucky cornerback Brandin Echols (26) had a team-high 10 tackles for the Wildcats in last week's 28-13 loss at Mississippi State. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

Both teams boast a heck of a punter. Kentucky’s Max Duffy leads the SEC in punting (51.2 yards a kick), while South Carolina’s Joseph Charlton is second (48.9). The Gamecocks have a clear advantage at kicker. Parker White is 6-for-8 on field goals with his only misses from outside 50 yards. UK will apparently go with walk-on Matt Ruffolo. After scholarship kicker Chance Poore (1-for-3 field goals last week; 3-for-7 for the year) was injured last week at Mississippi State, Ruffolo, a 5-11, 216-pound junior from Centerville, Ohio, hit a 29-yard field goal on his first college kick.

Advantage: South Carolina

Max Duffy punting vs Florida.JPG
Kentucky punter Max Duffy leads the SEC in yards per punt at 51.2. South Carolina punter Joseph Charlton is second at 48.9. Brian Simms bsimms@herald-leader.com

Prediction

South Carolina 30, Kentucky 26

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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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