By LARRY VAUGHT
Give South Carolina coach Will Muschamp credit for having no trouble summing up his team’s 24-7 win over Kentucky.
He simply called it a “dominating performance” by his team and that probably was an understatement. The Gamecocks brought a 1-3 record into the game and many felt a loss might result in Muschamp getting fired. However, South Carolina drove 75 yards to score on the game’s opening drive and never let up.
Kentucky started Sawyer Smith at quarterback for the third straight game and he was clearly far less than 100 percent from the start. He hurt his wrist against Florida after in his first start and then dinged his shoulder in his second start against Mississippi State. He was sacked three times and harassed all night. He finished 11 of 32 passing for only 90 yards before coach Mark Stoops mercifully took him out on UK’s final series receiver turned quarterback Lynn Bowden led UK on its only scoring drive.
“He was clearly not there,” UK Radio Network’s Tom Leach said about Smith after the game. “Accuracy was not there and several times him and his receivers were not on the same page.
“South Carolina came in believing UK had a wounded quarterback and was going to suffocate the run and short pass and Kentucky couldn’t counter punch. They desperately need to regroup and find something offensively they can be good at.”
Say amen UK fans. Kentucky had 212 total yards but 84 came on that final drive that was basically meaningless. South Carolina had 387 yards. Kentucky was 2-for-15 on third-down conversions.
Kentucky is now 0-3 since starting quarterback Terry Wilson went down in game two with a season-ending knee injury. The last nine quarters UK has been outscored 71-20, including the 19-0 blitz by Florida in the fourth quarter that started this downward slide.
Kentucky fans are frustrated — and the coaches better be, too. Coach Mark Stoops chastised UK fans after the loss at Mississippi State for seeming to panic. He’s got to know that’s going to ratchet up a 1,000 percent this week as fans have a lot of questions.
— Why leave Smith in the game so long when he obviously was hurting?
Stoops wouldn’t deny that Smith was not himself.
“I appreciate him and what he is trying to do. He has two injuries. He is giving us everything he has,” Stoops said. “He did not have the zip on the ball tonight. We were trying to do everything we could and probably could have gone to the option with Lynn sooner. It wasn’t all Sawyer.”
No it wasn’t all Sawyer Smith’s fault but how many injuries does it take for Stoops to pull him out? What he was giving his game just wasn’t enough because he was not physically able to do any better?
Stoops said he considered going to Bowden sooner and would work even more with him now. He also said the coaches had confidence in backup quarterback Walker Wood even though he did not play.
“I don’t want people to think we have don’t have faith and confidence in Walker. He is doing the best he can,” Stoops said.
Not sure about you, but that’s not a ringing endorsement of Wood for me
— What happened to the UK tackling? For the second straight week, the Cats allowed an opponent to have two 100-yard rushers. And this was a South Carolina team that had struggled to run the ball this season.
“It was awful,” former UK defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon, who worked on the UK Radio Network for this game, said about UK’s tackling. “To see two runners go for 100 yards is disappointing. But the way they did it. They were running through players. Just taking a guess I imagine 120 of those yards had to be after contact. Missouri held these guys to a combined 24 yards (rushing).”
— How did UK come out looking so lackadaisical to start a game for the second straight week?
Stoops said last week’s practice emphasized getting off to a better start. That certainly didn’t happen.
“They were more desperate than us,” UK linebacker Boogie Watson, who had two sacks, said. “Second week in a row a team was more desperate than us. We got to figure out why.”
But get what else he said on the postgame radio show.
“I hate to say it but as a defense we always let that first blow motivate us and it kind of wakes us up as a defense. That (opening scoring drive) woke us up and kind of got us going,” Watson said.
God bless him for his honesty but why does it take giving up a touchdown drive for a defense to wake up?
And how did Kentucky not once, but twice, only have nine men on the field on defense in the final three minutes of the first half? That’s inexcusable for both the coaching staff and players. Again, makes me wonder where the team’s focus was for this game.
“We didn’t play our best. There are no excuses,” Stoops said. “I like our team. I have no doubt we will hit the reset button, stick together and fight our way out of this.”
Maybe he’s right. However, fighting out of this is not going to be easy because to win in the SEC you have to generate offense and the last nine quarters Kentucky just has not done that.