Kentucky remains unbeaten with 16-10 win at South Carolina
Kentucky is re-writing the rulebook when it comes to turnover margin in football.
The Wildcats entered Saturday's game at South Carolina tied for last in the FBS with a minus-6 turnover margin for the season. They added three more to that total at Williams-Brice Stadium, yet somehow walked off the field with a 4-0 record and a 2-0 mark in SEC play after defeating the Gamecocks 16-10.
"Anytime you win an SEC game on the road, it's a great credit to our coaches and our team," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "We did not make it easy. I would certainly like that one time... The turnovers are definitely hurting us."
Kentucky fumbled the ball four times, losing two of them, and also threw an interception. South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC) did not commit a turnover. Since the 2000 season, teams that were minus-3 in SEC play had a record of 8-102.
But the Cats' defense rose to the occasion each time, forcing a punt and coming up with two fourth-down stops after the offensive miscues.
"We always have the mentality that, when some sudden change happens, we say 'Good,'" said UK senior linebacker DeAndre Square. "It's just a mentality that our whole defense has that it's not a bad thing. We're going to go out there and show our talents. When stuff like that happens, we get excited... We get a chance to go do what we do."
The significance of the fourth-down stops was magnified as both came in UK territory; one at the 25-yard line and the other at the 40.
"You have to give credit to (defensive coordinator Brad) White and the defensive coaches and players for stepping up time and time again," Stoops said. "The fourth-down stops after turnovers and getting the ball back, only giving up seven points to that team with those weapons."
South Carolina was held to 216 total yards and only 58 yards rushing. The Gamecocks went 3-for-12 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down.
Meanwhile, Kentucky rushed for 230 yards, including 144 on 26 carries by junior running back Chris Rodriguez, who avoided disaster on a pair of occasions when the Cats recovered his fumbles.
Kavosiey Smoke rushed nine times for 50 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run to give Kentucky a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the game, while UK quarterback Will Levis added 30 yards rushing to go along with a modest 102 yards passing.
Matt Ruffolo kicked field goals of 43, 21, and 27 yards to round out the UK scoring.
The Cats had just enough offense to remain undefeated and 2-0 in league play for only the second time since 1977.
"It's obviously something that we need to get fixed," Levis said of UK's turnover issues, "but it goes to show that we can still go and win games like that. It goes to show how much potential we have left with this team."
In this Rapid Recap feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK victory ...
DeAndre Square, Kentucky - There were several good candidates tonight, but we have to go with the leader of a UK defense that held South Carolina to a modest 216 total yards and only 58 yards rushing. Square led the Cats with eight tackles, including two back-to-back on one of UK's three fourth-down stops on the night.
BY THE NUMBERS:
2.2 - Average yards per rushing attempt by the South Carolina offense.
3 - Straight games with an opening-drive touchdown for UK.
7 - Wins for Kentucky in the last eight years against South Carolina.
26 - SEC victories for UK head coach Mark Stoops, breaking Fran Curci's school record.
144 - Rushing yards by Chris Rodriguez tied him with Derek Locke (2009 vs. Vanderbilt) for the seventh-highest total by a UK back in an SEC road game.
1933 - The last time the Cats won three consecutive games by seven or fewer points, as the current UK team has done in wins over Missouri, Chattanooga, and South Carolina.
"Whew, what a challenge. That place was rockin' tonight." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops on overcoming the wild atmosphere at South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium.
Kentucky returns home to face Florida on Saturday at Kroger Field. The game has been slated for a 6 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN. The Gators (3-1, 1-1 SEC) are coming off a 38-14 win over Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla.