COLUMBIA – South Carolina football is aiming to stay above .500 in its return to SEC competition this week after back-to-back wins.
The Gamecocks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) travel to Kroger Field to take on Kentucky (4-1, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday (7:30 pm, SEC Network), seeking their first win over the Wildcats since 2019. South Carolina leads the all-time series 18-14-1, but Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings, including a 16-10 win at Columbia last year.
Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup:
Rattler vs. Levis, or not
What could have been one of the most interesting quarterback battles of the season is now a big question mark in the middle. reports Kentucky’s Will Levis is questionable for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. If Levis isn’t 100%, the Gamecocks’ odds of winning will skyrocket.
Levis, a second-year starter for the Wildcats, is 97-of-141 passing for 1,405 yards through the first five games. In Kentucky’s win over the Gamecocks in 2021, Levis had a lackluster performance with 102 passing yards and an interception, but South Carolina coach Shane Beamer and defensive coordinator Clayton White said Levis has improved significantly this year.
The Kentucky quarterback is outperforming Gamecocks QB Spencer Rattler in almost every statistical category. He has the No. 2 quarterback rating in the SEC, while Rattler is last, 12 touchdown passes to Rattler’s four and a completion percentage of 69% to Rattler’s 64%. Levis’ biggest problem is protecting him: He has taken 19 sacks while South Carolina has given up 10.
The return of Chris Rodriguez
Kentucky’s star running back had a somewhat disappointing debut with 72 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, but coach Mark Stoops said Rodriguez is still reeling after missing the first four games. Rodriguez is believed to have been serving a suspension related to an NCAA investigation into player eligibility that was reported by Sports Illustrated, but Kentucky has not confirmed the reason for his absence.
Rodriguez averaged more than 100 yards per game in 2021, and South Carolina is allowing 185 rushing yards per game. Against SEC opponents, the Gamecocks have allowed an average of 251 rushing yards. Especially if Levis is dealing with an injury, controlling Rodriguez will be the primary concern of the South Carolina defense.
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Gamecocks on the road
Since Beamer took over the program in 2021, South Carolina is 0-5 in regular-season games on the road, including at Arkansas this season. If the team hopes to earn bowl eligibility, it will have to break the streak at some point, and South Carolina is 9-8 at Kentucky’s Kroger Field.
Beamer said the Arkansas game was encouraging for South Carolina’s ability to handle pressure on the road. After losing 21-9 at halftime, the Gamecocks rallied to fall within five points of the Razorbacks despite ultimately losing 44-30. The key against the Wildcats will be a stronger start, though South Carolina has struggled in the first half all season and scored its first touchdown of the year in the first quarter against South Carolina State.
Win the billing battle
Turnovers have been a problem for South Carolina’s offense since Week 1, and they allowed two interceptions and a fumble to SC State last week. Between Rattler and backup QB Luke Doty this season, the Gamecocks have as many as four lost fumbles and nine interceptions.
However, Kentucky has had similar problems, with four lost fumbles and four interceptions. The Wildcats lost to Ole Miss 19-22 last week after turning the ball over on their last two drives. A turnover-prone offense bodes well for the Gamecocks’ defense, which leads the SEC in interceptions with seven, though it has yet to force a fumble.
South Carolina 24, Kentucky 21: Will Levis’ injury status could change everything. The Gamecocks defense shines against the Wildcats, while the offense continues to find its rhythm in the running game. Mitch Jeter kicks a field goal for the win.