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GAMEDAY CENTRAL: UK-South Carolina

Let Cats Illustrated help you get ready for tonight's SEC East game between Kentucky and South Carolina, one of the most important games on the 2017 schedules of both programs.

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Will Muschamp and Mark Stoops (USA TODAY Sports)

Kentucky at South Carolina

Saturday, September 16th, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: SEC Network (Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic)

Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250)

Coaches: Mark Stoops (21-30, 5th season), Will Muschamp (36-28, 6th season/8-7 at South Carolina, 2nd season)

2017 records: Kentucky 2-0 (0-0 SEC), South Carolina (2-0, 1-0 SEC)

Weather Forecast: 82° (feels like 84°), 0% chance of rain, 55% humidity, NE 3 MPH


Article Continues Below

REQUIRED PREGAME PREP

Cats Illustrated's UK-USC preview podcast | Film Session: Advantage Conrad

Staff makes Week 3 picks | Staff also predicts UK-USC | Stoops on Finebaum

Jordan Jones OUT | FOUR DOWNS: UK may have a better shot than you think

Sept 13 practice notebook | How UK, USC starters compared as recruits

Closer look at the Gamecock "D" | Match up analysis | Around the SEC

Sept 12 practice notebook | Ask the Expert: Deebo Samuel | CI's 3-2-1

Who has the edge at each position? | Stoops: Urgency required | 9 questions

Is Bentley's hype justified? | Seven things to know about South Carolina

VIDEO VAULT

Stoops on Jones' absence | Clinkscale: Samuel's a challenge | House on USC prep

LeBlanc: "It's SEC week" | Brown ready after "lazy" 2016

Schlarman's "State of the O-Line" | Hinshaw: Explaining the QB decisions

Stephen Johnson on UK-USC | Bowden's bumpy start | Gran looks back, ahead

Wildcat formation's future | Why's Stoops jolly? | Stoops on USC prep

FROM THE OTHER SIDELINE

GamecockCentral.com staffers make UK-USC picks

USC using a game day DJ against UK | GamecockCentral.com final UK notebook

GamecockCentral.com Game Day Podcast


BETTING LINES

Westgate: UK +5.5, 50 O/U, UK +180 (Money Line)

Caesar's: UK +5.5, 50 O/U, UK +200

Unibet: UK +4.5, 50.5 O/U, UK +155

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Williams-Brice Stadium (USA TODAY Sports)

Saturday's Storylines

— Big SEC East stakes. If South Carolina wins on Saturday night their record would move to 2-0 in league play. That would give the Gamecocks a big early advantage in the battle for bowl pecking order and could position South Carolina as a dark horse contender in the East. If Kentucky wins on the road in Columbia it would be a huge start to conference play for the Cats, as this could be one of the tougher games on the program's 2017 schedule.

— Big home field advantage? Williams-Brice Stadium will be sold out and there's a blackout for Kentucky. Also, a record 14,600 South Carolina students have scooped up tickets for Saturday night's game. This is the Gamecocks' first home game of 2017 and fans will be eager to welcome home a team that many expected would be worse than 2-0 through games against NC State and Missouri.

— Competition factor? While NC State and Missouri aren't world beaters, much has been made of Kentucky's less than dominant performances against Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky. Not many people expected the Wildcats to dominate the Golden Eagles on the road, but one angle many have played up is South Carolina's two wins over Power Five programs. Has that prepared USC better, and how good is this Kentucky team?

— Less than healthy. All-SEC Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones was ruled out for the South Carolina game this week. He's the SEC's leading returning tackler from 2016 so it's a major loss. Star running back Benny Snell has been dealing with sore ribs. And, of course, Cole Mosier and Dorian Baker were lost before the season. South Carolina isn't 100-percent either but injury issues loom larger for Kentucky.


Keys to the Game

— Handling the atmosphere. See the Williams-Brice storyline above. Kentucky can't be swallowed up in a tide of emotion. The stadium will be electric. Keeping poise will be crucial. Fortunately, quarterback Stephen Johnson has played well enough in road games recently (ranging from satisfactory, against USM, to outstanding against Louisville late last year). But there are center issues, and you never know how your team will respond to a huge road atmosphere. This isn't Kentucky's first true road game but there will be three times as many people in Columbia, S.C., as were in Hattiesburg, Miss.

— Slowing down Samuel. Easier said than done. Deebo Samuel is one of the most electric players in the SEC and he already has five touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing, two on kickoff returns) through two games. He's the difference between 2-0 and 0-2. South Carolina does have other players to account for, but Samuel is the one who can tip a close game by himself. Part of this is special teams-related, especially Austin MacGinnis' need to put kicks in the right spots with the right hang time, and his coverage unit's need to be sound if Samuel does field the ball.

— Be the opportunistic team. South Carolina is probably fortunate to be 2-0 because of their yardage deficit against NC State (it was large) but they do have a formula to play opportunistic football: Sound defense, a good quarterback, an explosive special teams player. Kentucky needs to be the opportunistic team on Saturday night. What does that entail? Winning the turnover battle, making the big special teams play, converting third downs and red zone situations, scoring off turnovers. UK doesn't have to win all of those battles, but they have to win some.

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Jake Bentley (USA TODAY Sports)

Depth Chart Comparison

Table Name
POSITION Kentucky South Carolina

QB

Stephen Johnson, Sr (6'2, 185)

Drew Barker, Jr (6'3, 225)

Jake Bentley, So (6'3, 220)

Michael Scarnecchia, Jr (6'4, 209)

RB

Benny Snell, So (5'11, 223)

Sihiem King, Jr (5'9, 172)

Rico Dowdle, So (5'11, 220)

A.J. Turner, So (5'10, 184)

Ty'Son Williams, So (6'0, 215)

TE

C.J. Conrad, Jr (6'5, 245)

Greg Hart, Sr (6'5, 245

Hayden Hurst, Jr (6'5, 250)

Kiel Pollard, So (6'0, 240

WR/TE

Garrett Johnson, Sr (5'11, 175)

Lynn Bowden, Fr (6'1, 190)

Jacob August, Jr (6'6, 258)

K.C. Crosby, Jr (6'1, 242)

WR

Kayaune Ross, Sr (6'6, 225)

Blake Bone, Sr (6'5, 213)

Deebo Samuel, Jr (6'0, 215)

Terry Googer, Jr (6'4, 217)

WR

Charles Walker, Sr (5'11, 203)

Clevan Thomas, Fr (5'11, 205)

Bryan Edwards, So (6'3, 215)

OrTre Smith, Fr (6'4, 219)

WR

Tavin Richardson, So (6'3, 214)

Isaiah Epps, Fr (6'3, 185)

Josh Ali, Fr (6'0, 180)

Shi Smith, Fr (5'10, 179)

LT

Landon Young, So (6'7, 305)

Naasir Watkins, Fr (6'5, 300)

Malik Young, Jr (6'3, 303)

Dennis Daley, Jr (6'6, 330)

LG

Logan Stenberg, So (6'6, 318)

Luke Fortner, Fr (6'6, 305)

Donell Stanley, Jr (6'4, 317)

Sadarius Hutcherson, Fr (6'4, 316)

C

Bunchy Stallings, Jr (6'3, 315)

Nick Haynes, Sr (6'3, 300)

Drake Jackson, Fr (6'2, 290)

Alan Knott, Sr (6'4, 290)

Chandler Farrell, Fr (6'2, 292)

RG

Nick Haynes, Sr (6'3, 300)

Bunchy Stallings, Sr (6'3, 315)

Mason Wolfe, So (6'6, 310)

Cory Helms, Sr (6'4, 309)

Blake Camper, Jr (6'8, 310)

RT

Kyle Meadows, Sr (6'5, 300)

George Asafo-Adjei, Jr (6'5, 315)

Zack Bailey, Jr (6'6, 311)

D.J. Park, Sr (6'4, 337)

DE

TJ Carter, So (6'4, 280)

Kengera Daniel, Jr (6'5, 260)

Dante Sawyer, Sr (6'3, 275)

Keir Thomas, So (6'2, 262)

DT

Adrian Middleton, Jr (6'3, 275)

Kordell Looney, Fr (6'3, 293)

Taylor Stallworth, Sr (6'2, 305)

Kobe Smith, So (6'2, 286)

NT/DT

Naquez Pringle, Sr (6'3, 320)

Matt Elam, Sr (6'7, 360)

Ulric Jones, Sr (6'5, 312)

Javon Kinlaw, So (6'6, 326)

LB/DE

Denzil Ware, Jr (6'2, 245)

Josh Paschal, Fr (6'3, 270)

D.J. Wonnum, So (6'4, 251)

Daniel Fennell, So (6'3, 244)

LB

Josh Allen, Jr (6'5, 230)

Jordan Bonner, Jr (6'5, 222)

Bryson Allen-Williams, Sr (6'0, 230)

Antoine Wilder, So (5'10, 190)

LB

Courtney Love, Sr (6'2, 242)

Kash Daniel, So (6'1, 235)

Jamar Watson, Fr (6'3, 240)

T.J. Brunson, So (6'1, 230)

Sherrod Greene, Fr (6'1, 223)

LB

Eli Brown, So (6'2, 215)

Jamar Watson, Fr (6'3, 240)

Skai Moore, Sr (6'2, 218)

Eldridge Thompson, Jr (6'1, 215)

CB

Chris Westry, Jr (6'4, 195)

Jordan Griffin, So (6'0, 186)

JaMarcus King, Sr (6'2, 186)

Chris Lammons, Sr (5'10, 190)

CB

Derrick Baity, Jr (6'3, 186)

Lonnie Johnson, Jr (6'3, 203)

Rashad Fenton, Jr (5'10, 184)

Jamyest Williams, Fr (5'9, 175)

S

Darius West, Jr (6'0, 210)

Davonte Robinson, Fr (6'2, 187)

D.J. Smith, Sr (5'11, 198)

Javon Charleston, So (6'0, 189)

S

Mike Edwards, Jr (6'0, 200)

Kendall Randolph, Sr (6'0, 183)

Chris Lammons, Sr (5'10, 190)

Keisean Nixon, Jr (5'10, 192)

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