Kentucky looks to continue optimistic start vs. South Carolina

If South Carolina and Kentucky were to receive grades for the first three weeks of the season, neither team would get an A-plus.

But as the Gamecocks prepare to host the Wildcats Saturday in Columbia, S.C., both teams still have plenty of reason to be optimistic.

For Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), that optimism comes from its undefeated start. The Wildcats followed up a lopsided win over Louisiana-Monroe by posting close wins over Missouri and Chattanooga to secure their first 3-0 start since 2018.

Sure to figure prominently for the Wildcats is wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who has opened the season with three straight 100-yard receiving games. Robinson grabbed eight passes for 111 yards in Kentucky’s 28-23 victory over Chattanooga.

The win also was keyed by timely plays in the fourth quarter.

After Kentucky grabbed a 21-16 lead on a long drive culminating in a Will Levis touchdown pass, Tyrell Ajian recorded an interception on the ensuing drive and returned it 95 yards for a score.

“I’m proud of our guys making the plays,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Offensively, finally piecing together a 75-yard drive and converting with a touchdown pass to put us ahead, and Ty making the big pick and defensively making the stop when we had to.”

South Carolina (2-1, 0-1) could use some of those timely plays, especially when the primary reason for much of its positive outlook — a manageable schedule — is currently at hand.

The Gamecocks dropped a 40-13 decision to No. 2 Georgia last week, but the schedule eases up with no ranked opponents on the docket until an Oct. 23 road trip to current No. 7 Texas A&M. Before that tilt, South Carolina hosts Kentucky, Troy and Vanderbilt with a road trip to rebuilding Tennessee on Oct. 9.

To take advantage, the Gamecocks will need to stay positive and pounce on opportunities while limiting mistakes.

“I’m not sitting here patting myself on the back about us being 2-1,” Gamecocks head coach Shane Beamer told Rivals. “But I’m just trying to maintain positivity, maintain composure on the sideline and help our players throughout the game be successful.”

Luke Doty will receive his first start of the season after coming on in relief of Zeb Noland.

Doty sustained a sprained foot in a practice on Aug. 13 and was ruled out of the first two games of the season.

Noland, the former graduate assistant who joined the team after Doty’s injury, left last Saturday’s game after his throwing hand was stepped on. Doty replaced him and completed 13 of 26 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Beamer is expecting Noland will be available if needed. He has passed for 407 yards, five touchdowns and one interception this season.

For now, Stoops solely is focused on Kentucky.

“They’re playing good football,” Stoops said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of going down there and playing them, trying to get another SEC East victory. Big game for us.”

–Field Level Media

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