Kentucky vs South Carolina football: UK must avoid hangover


Kentucky’s football task against South Carolina this week is clear.

“I’m going to train against it, protect against it, talk about it, but one of the first things I said in the locker room was one can’t become two,” coach Mark said. Stoops. “Everyone is passionate and emotional after a big game like this, and our guys know that, the conviction is there. I think the intensity has to come back.

Kentucky climbed to the best finish in the program since 1977 with a 4-0 start to the season, but left Oxford, Mississippi, frustrated by a series of self-inflicted errors that led to a 22-19 loss to the Rebels.

Las Vegas bettors established the Wildcats, who fell to 13th in the Associated Press top 25 following the loss to Ole Miss, as 10-point favorites against South Carolina at home this week, but recent history offers cause for concern. Kentucky performances.

A year ago, Kentucky won its first six games before losing to No. 1 Georgia as the college football world watched for ESPN’s “College GameDay” in Athens. A path to a six-man New Year’s Bowl still existed for Kentucky after that loss, but Georgia’s loss turned into a three-game losing streak with subsequent losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee.

A similar scenario unfolded in 2018 when Kentucky started 7-1 before losing to Georgia in a win-win game for SEC East. A week later, the Wildcats posted their worst performance of the season in a 24-7 loss to a Tennessee team that finished the year with a 5-7 record. Players later attributed the performance to a hangover effect from Georgia’s loss.

In 2018 and 2021, Stoops and company managed to right the ship in time to salvage double-digit winning seasons, but each of Stoops’ nine seasons at Kentucky has included at least one two-game losing streak.

“We really have to lean on our leadership,” super senior linebacker DeAndre Square said after the Ole Miss loss. “We have guys who have been there before. We have to train the youngsters and train everyone because our season is not over because of a single defeat. We know that. We still have goals, we still have things we want to accomplish, so we just get back to work.

Mark StoopsWill Lévis
Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops made sure to tell his players immediately after a loss at Ole Miss that they couldn’t let the loss linger. Ryan C.Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

The last time Kentucky’s first loss in a season wasn’t immediately followed by a second loss was in 2018. The Wildcats’ first loss came in Week 6 at Texas A&M. Kentucky struggled a week later against Vanderbilt but escaped with a 14-7 win.

Like the 2018 Vanderbilt game, Kentucky has the advantage of returning to Kroger Field after its first loss this week. Tickets for the match are sold out and a a capacity crowd is expected in the first night game of the season which overlaps with Keeneland’s fall meeting.

Kentucky’s chances of rebounding quickly could also be helped by the nature of Ole Miss’s loss. Unlike the 2018 and 2021 losses to Georgia, this wasn’t a game where a stark talent gap between Kentucky and another SEC rival was revealed.

“We’re just going to do a better job of staying locked in, staying detailed, putting it all together and weeding out these dumb, stupid mistakes in this game,” senior tight end Brenden Bates said. “I really believe we were a better team, but we kept shooting each other in the foot. You can see how we played.

Growing injury concerns are working against Kentucky, however.

As junior outside linebacker JJ Weaver nears a return to the field, super senior linebacker Jacquez Jones and junior right tackle Jeremy Flax have been sidelined by injuries. Senior quarterback Will Levis did not need surgery after dislocating a finger on his non-throwing hand at Ole Miss, but he faces the growing toll of being sacked 19 times in five games.

Kentucky still has two games before its rest week, which should provide a chance for a well-deserved rest before what looks like a season-defining game at Tennessee. But unless this Kentucky team proves more capable of putting a loss behind it than in recent years, the next two games against South Carolina and Mississippi State could wipe out their chances of getting out of the week. off while factoring in the SEC East race.

“We still have everything we want on the table for us,” Levis said. “I just have to take it one week, one game, one day at a time. I’m really proud of the way the guys fought (at Ole Miss). We had a lot of banged up guys. We showed that we can win games like this, we should win games like this.

“So obviously we’re doing it right, and we just have to keep trusting the preparation.”

Saturday

South Carolina at No. 13 Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Recordings: South Carolina 3-2 (0-2 SEC), Kentucky 4-1 (1-1)

Series: South Carolina leads 18-14-1

Last meeting: Kentucky won 16-10 on September 25, 2021 in Columbia, SC

Jon Hale is the University of Kentucky football beat writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the Herald-Leader in 2022 but has been covering British athletics for over 10 years. Hale was named Kentucky’s 2021 Sportswriter of the Year.

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