By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Kentucky and South Carolina haven’t won a Southeastern Conference game this season, but that will change when the two teams meet Saturday in Columbia.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops termed the Gamecocks as the best 1-3 team in the nation earlier this week and much like the Wildcats, South Carolina is trying to find its way after losing their starting quarterback. Ryan Hilinski took over for veteran Jake Bentley after he went down with a season-ending foot injury in a loss to North Carolina to open the season.
“He gets rid of the football (and) he’s a rhythm guy,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “He likes to throw in rhythm and get there and disperse the football. He’s got a lot of good guys to throw it to. They have got some talented guys at wide receiver.
“He likes to get rid of it. He makes good throws. He’s made some extremely tough throws, and then he just looks good when he’s comfortable out there and throwing in rhythm. There have been times when they’ve looked really good.”
He was especially good in a 72-10 win over Charleston Southern. He threw for 282 yards, including two touchdown passes and rushed for another touchdown. In three games, he has thrown for 772 yards and five touchdowns, including a 75-yard strike to teammate Bryan Edwards.
Like South Carolina, Kentucky has relied on its backup signal-caller since veteran Terry Wilson injured his knee in a win over Eastern Michigan. Sawyer Smith has completed 15 passes on 41 attempts for 232 yards in a 28-13 loss to Mississippi State last weekend. Smith has thrown for 575 yards and four touchdowns. His longest was a 54-yard scoring strike to Ahmad Wagner in his first pass with the Wildcats. He also has rushed for nine yards.
“He has legs,” Mushchamp said. “I wouldn’t say he is Terry Wilson. He has legs and has been able to extend plays for them. He was a really good runner at Troy. We’ve done a lot research as far as those things are concerned. I don’t know much it changes what they do. They want to run the football and they will play action you. That’s been their mantra since Eddie (Gran) has been there. I don’t know how much it changes them.”
Muschamp said his biggest concern is Kentucky all-purpose receiver Lynn Bowden, who caught seven passes for 129 yards and added three rushes for 37 yards. He added a punt return for 25 yards and his lone kickoff return against the Bulldogs went for 19 yards.
“Lynn Bowden is a guy that really jumps off the tape at you,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very good player. They play him at quarterback, running back and in the slot. They get the ball to him as a returner. He’s really electric with the ball in his hands. He’s an outstanding competitor and a really, really good football player.”
Stoops said the Wildcats need more production from other players, such as Wagner, to take the pressure off Bowden in moving forward.
“We have to look at the amount of plays we are giving him and asking him to run all over the field, and sometimes on reverses and things of that nature and taking shots down the field,” Stoops said.
“Sometimes back-to-back plays with him. We have got to be smart and try to give him some rest when we can, because he’s doing an awful lot and we appreciate he’s effort. Ahmad has made some extremely difficult catches as you’ve seen. Just misjudged that one. Didn’t come down with it. I expect him to make the next one.”
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Gametracker: Kentucky at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.