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{{ timeAgo('2017-09-16 22:25:28 -0500') }} ago

EXTRA POINTS: Big takeaways following Kentucky's huge road win

Kentucky knocked off South Carolina 23-13 at Williams-Brice Stadium and the score reflected the way the Cats owned the game after a rocky start.

Here are some quick notes and observations immediately following the game.

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USA TODAY Sports

Changing Perceptions

Did you catch the SEC Network's coverage immediately after the game?

Jordan Rodgers said Kentucky is capable of beating any team playing the style of football they played on Saturday night.

In the studio, accomplished defensive coordinator and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said Kentucky must have one of the most improved defenses in the nation.

The studio host said Kentucky-Florida next Saturday at Kroger Field will be one of the marquee games on the Week 4 college football slate.

Winning the games you're supposed to win out of conference is how you start climbing the ladder. Winning road games in the SEC is how you change perceptions.

Four in a row over an SEC East rival helps, too, including two in a row at Williams-Brice Stadium as touchdown underdogs in both meetings.

Legit SEC Defense

There's a lot of football still to be played and Kentucky has not faced an offensive juggernaut yet, but it's impossible to ignore or deny the Cats' defensive improvement now that they have the win over South Carolina under the belt. Before, it was easy to write off the apparent improvement because Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky aren't Power Five opponents.

But South Carolina completely abandoned the running game when they realized they couldn't move the line of scrimmage or the ball on the ground in short yardage situations, time and again, against Kentucky's defense.

Through three games Kentucky is allowing 57 rushing yards per game. There will be tougher tests down the road (Mississippi State's starting to look daunting, and Georgia), but this could be Kentucky's best defense, top to bottom, in quite some time.

Mental Toughness

Other Kentucky teams would have wilted. Deebo Samuel's long touchdown reception on the first play of scrimmage was followed quickly by an interception that had the Gamecocks knocking on the door again, threatening to go up two scores in the first couple of minutes of the game.

Then the defense clamped down with a string of three-and-outs while the offense found its footing.

The offense asserted its will in the trenches, with the line playing its best game of the season. Benny Snell picked up tough yards, the third down execution was fantastic, and the wide receivers were sure handed and found open space in South Carolina's coverage schemes especially on key conversion opportunities.

On third down late in the game with South Carolina close to getting the ball back with a chance to tie, Stephen Johnson scrambled all the way down the field deep into Gamecock territory setting up the game's final points, an Austin MacGinnis field goal that put the game out of reach.

It was an impressive display of mental toughness and resilience that underscores the maturity that Mark Stoops has credited this team with early in the year. They responded to the challenge of taking on an unbeaten SEC foe in a wild atmosphere, and that's a sign the program has turned the corner.

Think Big

It's still far too early to tell how this season will play out for Kentucky but 3-0 is 3-0. You can't be any better than that through three games. Now, the story of Kentucky's season isn't the offensive struggles against Southern Miss or the sluggish, unconvincing performance against FCS foe Eastern Kentucky. The story is of an unbeaten team that has battled against injuries and done enough to win each time.

Thinking about bowl eligibility? Given history, that's understandable.

But with an undefeated team, the program's best defense in some time and a quarterback who's just a flat out winner, not to mention better depth than Kentucky has had in modern history, let yourself think big.

The East is still wide open.

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