By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s offense had a brilliant first half and then the defense took over for the Wildcats.
Kentucky built a 24-3 halftime lead and settled for a 24-10 win — its fifth straight over South Carolina and also UK’s fifth straight this season. Kentucky has not been 5-0 since 2007 but the difference here is that UK is also 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
But maybe the best sign about how special this season could be is that Kentucky played far from a perfect game. The offense squandered scoring chances the second half and had 252 of its 328 total yards in the first half when Benny Snell, A.J. Rose and Terry Wilson all had scoring runs. Kentucky had 11 penalties for 115 yards, including a targeting call on linebacker Kash Daniel that got him ejected in the second half and also means he’ll miss the first half of the next game at Texas A&M.
“We expect to play better and there’s a lot of things we can do better and we will,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “I would like to see us finish a little better but I love the way my team started. We really play good on both sides in the first half.”
He should be especially happy with the the defense even thought South Carolina’s offense tried various gimmicks to try and confuse the UK defense.
“I was very happy with the way we got lined up but they did get us a little bit soft at times,” Stoops said. “They were trying to set up a trick play but we covered the eligibles (receivers) fine.”
“We felt focused and prepared for this game and it showed,” linebacker Josh Allen said.
South Carolina finished with 321 yards but the majority came in the second half, including 58 yards when UK cornerback Lonnie Johnson probably should have made the interception but it turned into a touchdown pass. However, UK came up with three interceptions and the defense set the tone immediately when linebacker Jordan Jones made a hit inside the 10-yard line and then recovered the fumble. Allen also forced a fumble, had four tackles for loss, made three sacks and had eight tackles. Darius West had nine tackles and an interception.
“We just hurt ourself in the second half,” Stoops said. “We got a little sloppy. Just things where we had a chance to put it away and didn’t.”
South Carolina loaded the line to stop Snell the second half and he finished with 28 carries for 99 yards — he once was over 100 yards but lost yardage on late carries. Future defenses likely will do the same to make Wilson show he can make plays through the air to beat them. Wilson was 13 of 20 passing for 132 yards and one interception — which came on a long pass on third down and 35.
“We got off the track a little bit in the second half. We started with a great drive in the second half that we didn’t finish,” Stoops said. “We had three great drives in the first half. We just didn’t finish it that way. We had some opportunities and we have to hit some (big plays).”
But a win is a win.
“We didn’t dance or celebrate,” Stoops said.
That’s because No. 17 UK expected to win even if the Las Vegas oddsmakers again had the Cats as an underdog playing at home against a team they had beat four straight years.
Still, Kentucky is 5-0.
“Here is the good news,” Stoops said. “We can play a lot better.”