To USC fans, Saturday night’s loss at Kentucky tasted like Navy of ’84, smelled like Vanderbilt of ’07. Their highly rated Gamecocks, coming off a monumental victory and thinking of doing what many have considered to be the unthinkable, like winning the SEC Championship, laid an egg on the bluegrass of Commonwealth Stadium.
In 1984, an undefeated and 3rd ranked USC team lost at Navy. In 2007, a once defeated and 6th ranked Gamecock team lost to Vanderbilt. In both cases, the Gamecocks stood to improve themselves in the national rankings.
Saturday night, the Gamecocks could have put themselves in an almost uncatchable position in the SEC East. The Gamecocks would have been 3-1 in the league with a win. Vanderbilt has two league losses, and everyone else in the East has three. At 2-2 the Gamecocks still lead the East, but they’ve eliminated their working margin.
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The Gamecocks were dominated in the second half as much as they dominated Kentucky in the first half. USC led 28-10 at halftime. The Wildcats won the second half 21-0. The Gamecocks did finish with a season high 472 yards, but they allowed 401 yards, including 262 in the second half when the Wildcats recorded 12 first downs and converted on third down 7 out of 11 times.
Gamecock quarterback Stephen Garcia did pass for a career high 382 yards and 2 touchdowns, but 281 of those yards came in the first half. And he was picked off twice including in the end zone on USC’s last offensive play.
USC finished with just 90 rushing yards with Marcus Lattimore gaining 79 of those. Lattimore appeared to be on his way to a monster night but a sprained ankle ended his night early in the third quarter. Lattimore also had 133 yards in receptions and scored three touchdowns on the night. Brian Maddox played most of the second half in Lattimore’s absence.
The Gamecock defense had no answer for Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline. He picked apart the secondary with a variety of throws finishing 32-42 for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those are career highs for completions, passing yards and touchdowns. Chris Matthews was on the receiving end of 12 of those passes for 177 yards and one touchdown.
It’s hard to believe a team can lose a game when it aveages 8.6 yards per play, but that’s what the Gamecocks did. But the Gamecocks had 20 fewer snaps than the Wildcats. In the second half Kentucky held the ball for more than 18 minutes. The Gamecocks four turnovers and their inability to get Kentucky off the field spelled the end of their domination in this series.
USC returns to action next Saturday at Vanderbilt for a 7:00 kickoff on FSN. Kentucky remains at home next weekend for a game against Georgia.