The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off the program's first-ever victory over the nation's top-ranked team, the 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks will attempt to carry the momentum into this weekend's SEC matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Not only did South Carolina upset Alabama last weekend, but the 35-21 victory was quite decisive. That win moved the Gamecocks to 4-1 overall and has them in position to contend for an SEC title.
"I think that this game was meant to be," said head coach Steve Spurrier after his biggest win since taking over at South Carolina. "We had to play ball today, we played till the end and looked up and we had beaten No. 1 by a couple of touchdowns."
Since opening the season with three consecutive victories over non-conference opponents, Kentucky has suffered three straight defeats, all to SEC foes. Last weekend, the Wildcats fell to Auburn by a 37-34 final on a last-second field goal.
"My heart aches for these guys," said Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips of his players. "They played their hearts out we asked them to come in and prepare like champions on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and we got that."
South Carolina owns a 14-6-1 series lead over Kentucky, including 10 consecutive victories over the Wildcats.
South Carolina needed quarterback Stephen Garcia to play the game of his life against Alabama, and the signal caller certainly delivered. Garcia completed 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns, two of which were hauled in by stud receiver Alshon Jeffery. As for the ground attack, freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore posted 93 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
"I can't say enough about the way the offensive line played," said Garcia after the tilt. "They were great, and they were poised throughout the whole game. We had some quick throws in there, and I only got sacked one time, which is pretty nice considering we were playing against a defense like Alabama."
The fact that South Carolina was able to hold the vaunted Alabama rushing attack to 36 yards on 29 attempts is staggering. The pass defense wasn't nearly as impressive, permitting 27-of-35 throws to be completed for 315 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Still, the overall performance of the defense was solid, as the 'Bama offense reached the end zone just twice in 32:27 of possession time.
Through five outings, South Carolina is generating 31.6 ppg to go along with 374.4 total ypg. The Gamecocks have scored 20 offensive touchdowns, and Garcia has thrown eight scores against just three picks while completing 72.3 percent of his passes. Jeffery has made 34 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns, while Lattimore has rushed for 459 yards and eight scores.
Opponents are scoring 18.8 ppg against South Carolina, which is allowing 365.0 total ypg. The run defense has been tremendous, surrendering just 3.3 yards per attempt and three touchdowns through 20 quarters of football. There is room for improvement in regard to the pass defense, as foes are averaging 255.2 ypg and 11.2 yards per completion. Stephon Gilmore, who is second on the team in tackles, leads South Carolina with five TFLs.
Kentucky will likely have to play without standout tailback Derrick Locke this weekend, as he has been downgraded to doubtful with a shoulder injury. Locke was knocked out of last week's game against Auburn after just five carries, but his teammates continued to battle. The versatile Randall Cobb ran for two scores, threw a touchdown pass and caught seven pass for 68 yards and another score. Quarterback Mike Hartline was an efficient 23-of-28 for 220 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"It's hard," said Hartline of the disappointing loss. "You can't really say much about it. We ran out of time and just came up one drive short."
While the Kentucky offense played well enough for the team to win, the defense let the squad down. The Wildcats surrendered 521 total yards in that clash, including 311 yards on 52 rushing attempts. All four touchdowns scored by the Auburn offense were of the rushing variety, and Kentucky permitted the Tigers to come away with points on all six trips to the red zone.
Through six outings, Kentucky is scoring 36.0 ppg while yielding 30.2 ppg to opponents. While the Wildcats have registered an impressive total of 15 rushing touchdowns, they have surrendered the same amount of scores on the ground. Fortunately, the Kentucky passing game is posting over 100 ypg more than the opposition, as Hartline has completed 66.5 percent of his throws for 1,442 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Cobb has made 32 catches for 403 yards with four scores, and he has rushed for three touchdowns while also throwing three scores.