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October 7, 2011

Cats look to end three-game losing streak

KENTUCKY at No. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA
Site: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia S.C. (80,250)
Game time: 12:21 p.m.

Coaches: Joker Phillips, Kentucky (8-10 overall, second year at UK and overall, Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (190-74-2 overall, seventh year at LSU, 48-34 at South Carolina, 17-1 against Kentucky)
Series history: South Carolina leads 14-7-1
Last time: The Wildcats earned a win over Spurrier for the first time ever and broke a 10-game losing streak to the Gamecocks. South Carolina took a 28-10 lead into the half but the UK defense shut them out the rest of the way while forcing four turnovers, including one in the closing seconds as the Wildcats sealed the 31-28 win.
Depth charts: Kentucky, South Carolina
TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network, XM 199, Sirius 219 (Sirius Premier package), radio stream at UKathletics.com
Internet video stream: ESPN3.com

Kentucky will win if?
The Wildcats are going to trot out the same offense you've seen for the last five games with disappointing results. Raymond Sanders will be back for the first time in three weeks and should give UK depth at tailback, but that won't matter if the passing game doesn't improve. The offensive line has taken incremental steps forward since all five starters returned, but it might be time for them to take a big leap if the offense is going to look any different.

Having a solid offensive line in front of him would do wonders for the confidence of Morgan Newton, though it won't cure UK's receiving ills. But with Sanders back, he might have more chances to throw to the tailbacks. He'll need all the help he can get to get the offense out of first gear. That includes the tight ends, which have played well in some games and barely gotten any looks in others.

Defensively, Rick Minter's unit will have the chance to face an inexperienced quarterback who probably hasn't seen a hybrid defense. If they can fluster him into some turnovers to give the offense a short field, UK will stand a much better chance of scoring. Randall Burden will be facing Alshon Jeffery for the third time in his career. That experience could be the key to stopping him, or it could just mean Jeffery will know exactly what to expect.

South Carolina will win if?

The buzz going into the game is all about Connor Shaw relieving the much-maligned Stephen Garcia, who has thrown nine interceptions this season. But whoever is playing quarterback for the Gamecocks won't bear the brunt of the load on Saturday. It'll be up to Marcus Lattimore, perhaps the SEC's best player, to keep the defense honest. Even if he can't do that, though, receiver Alshon Jeffery will keep the UK secondary on its toes all afternoon.

No team in college football has surrendered more sacks than UK this year, and they haven't faced pass rushers as talented as Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. The Wildcats caught a break, as SEC sack leader Melvin Ingram likely won't play, but Billy Joe Murphy and Chandler Burden are going to earn their scholarships in this one. If they get to Newton, though, it'll be a long day for the rest of the offense. Gamecock corner Stephon Gilmore is also an All-SEC talent, and he'll probably be matched up with La'Rod King for most of the day.

It was tough to imagine UK coming out of this three-game stretch with a win in hand, but if there was the potential for an upset, this might be it. It'll take the same recipe the Cats having been looking for but unable to find in the last two weeks: play clean, force turnovers, and take advantage of short fields. If Shaw stumbles, UK will have a shot. But if South Carolina takes the lead early, they'll be able to hand it off to Lattimore all day.

Key matchup: Billy Joe Murphy vs. Jadeveon Clowney
Murphy is an unheralded fifth-year senior who has done a little of everything for Kentucky's offensive line over the years. Clowney is the freshman superstar that everyone will be watching. If Clowney can consistently get into the backfield, UK's offense won't be able to find a rhythm. But Murphy has tons of experience, and he's played ends of Clowney's caliber before. If you don't notice UK's right tackle, that means he's having a big day.

Cats Illustrated staff predictions:

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: South Carolina 31, Kentucky 13
This game should look very similar to the LSU game. Both offenses will start slow, but the Gamecocks will chip away at the UK defense with Lattimore until they can find something in the air. Even if it's close early, UK's offense won't keep pace with the Gamecocks. As the lead gets bigger, Lattimore will get the ball more, and the time will slip away. It'll take a disastrous game from Shaw or an unexpected eruption of offense from UK if anything else is going to happen.

Brett Dawson, Publisher: South Carolina 27, Kentucky 10
Which Kentucky rushing defense shows up? If it's the one that faced Florida two weeks ago, Lattimore might set records. If it's the one that played against LSU last weekend, maybe the Cats have a chance to hang around. If Shaw was the answer at quarterback, he'd have been playing long before this. Garcia's been practically begging to be replaced. So South Carolina doesn't figure to be an offensive juggernaut. But given Kentucky's troubles protecting Newton - and his tendency to hold the ball while considering his options - the Gamecocks' pass rush should have a field day.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: South Carolina 24, Kentucky 14
The Wildcats will stay competitive with the No. 18 Gamecocks, but UK has had so much trouble generating offense that it's hard to imagine it making a significant advance on
the road against another fast, aggressive defense. UK will get a boost by the return of their best pass-catching running back, Sanders, assuming he is OK after knee surgery. He'll also help in pass
protection. South Carolina's quarterback situation is in flux, but it's not hard for any QB to just hand the ball off to Lattimore, who gashed the Cats last year before being injured.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: South Carolina 41, Kentucky 13
There are a lot of similarities between this game and UK's last meeting against South Carolina. As it was last season, UK is on a three-game losing streak and looking for its first conference win. Unlike last year, when South Carolina was coming off an upset win over the No.1 team in the country, the Gamecocks will face the Cats after a close home loss to Auburn. Starting Shaw obviously will play in UK's favor, and we'll know early if this game will be competitive. If UK can stop Lattimore, it'll be a defensive struggle. However I expect Lattimore to have his way and USC to play like a team wanting revenge, and UK's offense hasn't taken any steps forward this season.


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