COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina looks to snap a five-game losing streak as they travel to take on Kentucky in the regular season finale.
Freshman quarterback Luke Doty got his first collegiate start last week in the Gamecocks’ 45-16 loss to Georgia.
He was impressively efficient given the matchup, completing 18 of 22 passes for 190 yards and one score to one interception. But the Bulldogs controlled most of the game, racking up 332 rushing yards and 471 total yards of offense. Sophomore running back Kevin Harris added 53 yards on the ground to bring his season total to 928 yards. The one thousand-yard mark is firmly within reach as Harris needs just 72 yards against the Wildcats to reach the feat. You have to go back to 2013 to find a Gamecock with that kind of performance as Mike Davis was the most recent to do it. Davis tallied 1,183 yards rushing that season.
Doty talked about what it would mean to the team to have Harris reach one thousand yards in their final game of the 2020 season:
For this final game, the Gamecocks are likely to get one of their top playmakers back on offense in receiver Shi Smith. Smith did not play against Georgia after suffering a concussion in the Missouri game the week prior. Despite missing a game, however, Smith still leads the team in catches (54), yards (605) and receiving touchdowns (4). He’ll be a welcome sight for Doty as he prepares for his second start.
In their most recent matchup, South Carolina defeated Kentucky 24-7 last September. But both teams are very different now than what they were in 2019.
The 3-6 Wildcats have had a pretty tough year, and an even more taxing last month. They are coming off of back to back losses against Alabama and Florida. They took on a Georgia team just two weeks before that, with a win over Vanderbilt sandwiched in-between.
They haven’t gotten much from the quarterback position through the air this year, but they’re pretty effective on the ground. Terry Wilson (#3) is a dual-threat quarterback that has shown he can do a fair amount of damage on the ground. He has 364 yards rushing and four rushing scores this season, which is second on the team. And while the gaudy passing numbers haven’t been there, it hasn’t been an atrocious performance from the QB in that area. He’s completing nearly 63% of his passes, and has thrown just four interceptions all season, although he’s only thrown seven touchdowns as well. His best all-around performance came in week two against Ole Miss in which he completed 77% of his passes and tallied 129 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Largely, Kentucky has relied on its run game. The Wildcats get leading rusher Chris Rodrigiez Jr. (#24) back from injury after he missed the last two games. But even with the missed games he still leads the team in yards (562), and touchdowns (6). He’s very much a prototypical north/south between the tackles runner, and has a high motor. He’s physical and fights for the extra yard. But in third down passing situations, they usually turn to Akim Rose (#10). Rose started in place of Rodriguez and has recorded over 400 yards rushing this season as well. So this team has a variety to work with in the backfield.
Wideout Josh Ali (#6) is pretty much the exclusive primary target in the passing game. The senior has 29 catches and over 250 yards more than the next closest receiver on the team. He’s trusted in almost every situation. But they often turn to big tight end Keaton Upshaw (#88) in the red zone. He has three receiving touchdowns to lead the team.
On defense, two players really stand out. Outside linebacker Jamar Watson (#31) leads the team with five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He’s very quick off the edge and is super athletic to turn the corner and bring down the quarterback, or run down a back. He also has an interception.
In the secondary, cornerback Kelvin Joseph (#1) is a ball hawk who’s grabbed four interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a score. He has good size (6’1”, 192 lb) as well to jam at the line and break up 50/50 balls. Overall, though, the defense as a whole has had a tough year. They’re middle of the pack against the run, they’ve been shredded through the air, and allow opponents to convert over 40% of their third down attempts. But it’s important to note they often capitalize when takeaway opportunities are presented to them.
South Carolina has a prime opportunity to end the season on a high note, and the offense should be able to generate some momentum early on. If they can get Kevin Harris going early, that will open things up for Doty in the passing game. And with his ability to extend plays and make something happen with his legs, they can sustain long drives against this Wildcats defense.
Look for Shi Smith to have a big day in helping the quarterback establish some rhythm through the air.
The offensive line can right the ship as well. Despite their recent struggles, if they can account for Watson, and get Harris going it could be a long afternoon for Kentucky. Defensively, it’s all about stopping the run. The need to find a way to win the line of scrimmage from the first snap and force Kentucky to play from behind. Whichever line plays better on Saturday likely wins this game.