AP NEWS

No. 17 Kentucky wants to maintain momentum vs South Carolina

September 28, 2018
1 of 4

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops celebrates with players and fans on the field after the team's 28-7 win over Mississippi State during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Back in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly 11 years, 17th-ranked Kentucky now must meet the challenge that comes with having a target on its back.

South Carolina seems poised to take a shot as the Gamecocks seek to end their four-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

Kentucky (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) earned its first Top 25 ranking since November 2007 following last week’s ’s 28-7 upset of No. 23 Mississippi State.

Kentucky is off to its best start in a decade and the victory against the Bulldogs was arguably the Wildcats’ most complete performance under coach Mark Stoops. He wants his unbeaten squad to maintain its aggression and confidence, and to keep pace with SEC East favorite Georgia.

“There’s something about earning it,” Stoops said this week. “Our players are starting to buy into that. They like the grind and the discipline that it takes to earn it throughout the week.”

Discipline will certainly be needed against the Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1), who rolled to last week’s 37-14 SEC win at Vanderbilt through balanced offense.

South Carolina rushed for a season-high 273 of its 534 yards, a big rebound after gaining just 54 in its 41-17 loss to No. 2 Georgia two weeks before. Quarterback Jake Bentley remained consistent, completing 68 percent of his passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. He enters the game ranked third in the SEC, averaging 260 yards per outing.

The Gamecocks are also encouraged about their defense after holding the Commodores to 284 yards. Coach Will Muschamp believes that might be the most critical phase against Kentucky’s conference-leading rushing attack (269 yards) and junior tailback Benny Snell Jr.

“You’ve got to swarm the ball,” Muschamp said. “That’s the bottom line. When you play really, really good backs, they’re going to make you miss, they’re going to break some tackles.

“You’ve got to have the right mindset going into the game and that’s something that’s really important.”

Some other things to watch as No. 17 Kentucky hosts South Carolina:

MONEY-DOWN MASTERS

South Carolina leads the SEC in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 8 of 33 chances (24 percent). The Gamecocks are pretty solid offensively, making 16 of 35 chances (46 percent) on the pivotal down to rank seventh in the conference. Kentucky ranks third, having made 25 of 48 chances (52 percent).

HIGHER GEAR

The Wildcats seek more from their passing game after gaining just 71 yards against Mississippi State, though a steady downpour affected opportunities. They at least made good on their few attempts, getting clutch 23-yard catches from tight end C.J. Conrad and wideout Dorian Baker to set up touchdowns. Quarterback Terry Wilson said the focus is on speeding things up — sensibly. “It’s not tough to play fast,” he said, “you just have to play fast on a decision(-making) basis.”

MR. 3,000

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. leads SEC rushers with 540 yards and has 2,964 in his career. He needs 32 to move into third place on the school’s career list and 36 to join Sonny Collins and Moe Williams in reaching the 3,000-yard career mark. His four rushing TDs last week gave him 39 total scores and broke Randall Cobb’s school record.

KINLAW’S PRESENCE

Gamecocks defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw disrupted Vanderbilt in many ways, posting five tackles — including three for loss and a pair of sacks — two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. The SEC’s co-Defensive Lineman of the Week is tied for second on the team with 13 tackles and has 2.5 sacks.

STRETCHING IT OUT

Kentucky’s quest for big plays has yielded 11 touchdowns of at least 20 yards, more than doubling its total a year ago. Seven of those have come from at least 25 yards, compared to just one at this point last fall.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

AP RADIO
Update hourly