The stage is set - both ESPN College GameDay's and the metaphorical one - for a colossal matchup Saturday.
After slogging through the first half, Carolina steamrolled through the second en route to a 38-17 win over Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium. The win caps off a dream scenario for the Gamecocks when their schedule was first released: a 5-0 September, and a top-10 showdown against fellow undefeated Georgia.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are six more days to focus on the Bulldogs. Like the game itself, we can't overlook what happened in Lexington.
Tell that to Connor Shaw.
After a blocked punt cost the Gamecocks -24 team yards, Carolina finished the first half with 108 yards of total offense. Shaw had 119 yards by himself (82 passing, 37 rushing). It sounds impossible, but it's true - Shaw accounted for a Denard Robinson-like 110.1% of Carolina's offense in the first half.
Total Yards - 1st Half
Connor Shaw 119
South Carolina 108 (Shaw-119, Lattimore-12, Sanders-1, Team- -24)
Shaw's % of Total Offense 110.2%
The junior continued his stellar play Saturday, completing 15-of-18 passes for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. Two of Shaw's incompletions were catchable, too (Bruce Ellington's drop and D.L. Moore's missed grab in the end zone). He could easily be 37 for his last 39. Shaw will instead settle for 35 for his last 39 (89.7%).
Should Have Seen It Coming: It figured Kentucky safety Daron Blaylock had the leaping ability to block Carolina's punt late in the first half. He's the son of former Atlanta Hawks guard Mookie Blaylock.
There Is An "I" in Team: Like the rest of his teammates, Marcus Lattimore found himself bottled up in the first half. The Gamecocks' career touchdowns leader managed only 12 yards on 5 carries, his running lanes congealed by an active Kentucky defense. In the second half, though, Lattimore lowered his shoulder pads and got to work. Running primarily out of the I-formation, Lattimore mauled his way to 112 yards - an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Half Carries Yards Yards/Carry
1st 5 12 2.4
2nd 18 112 6.2
Lattimore also continued another encouraging trend: like the season opener, South Carolina closed a tight game by dominating time of possession in the fourth quarter.
Team Margin Entering 4th Q Time of Possession
Vanderbilt +4 10:18
Kentucky +4 10:04
There Is An "I" In Team: A Gilchrist left his mark in Lexington, but this time it wasn't Michael. Fullback Qua Gilchrist received a game ball from head coach Steve Spurrier for another unsung performance in the Gamecocks backfield. In addition to making his second career catch, the Abbeville, S.C., senior leveled monster blocks on Carolina's two longest running plays of the 2nd half. First, he sealed his defender on the edge to spring Kenny Miles for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. He then engaged his linebacker to allow Lattimore to spurt for 23 yards in the fourth quarter.
With Carolina moving to a power-I in the second half -- we counted 30 plays from that alignment in the booth -- Gilchrist's contributions were invaluable.
A Thought: On the surface, Devin Taylor's numbers seemed as quiet as his "Don't Say Nothin'" demeanor. But ask yourself: without Taylor hurrying opposing quarterbacks, or forcing them to re-direct their scrambles, how many tackles for loss and sacks would players like Aldrick Fordham, Chaz Sutton, and Kelcy Quarles have? Taylor delivered a classic "Remember me?" performance Saturday, using his Pterodactyl-like wingspan to finish with 3 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and his first sack of the season. He also helped overwhelm a Kentucky line that had protected its quarterbacks well:
Kentucky Sacks Allowed Per Pass Plays*
Games 1-4: 1 sack every 45.5 pass plays (4.0 sacks in 168)
Vs. South Carolina 1 sack every 4.4 pass plays (7.0 sacks in 31)
*-"Pass Plays" = Pass Attempts + Sacks (because they began as a passing play).
Hollomania: Kentucky changed course dramatically after the departure of sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith to injury in the 1st quarter. Instead of relying on the nation's 10th-best passer (322.0 ypg), the Wildcats downshifted to a zone-read option attack under freshman Jalen Whitlow. That sudden change may have rattled the Gamecocks in the 1st half.
Enter DeVonte Holloman. The senior Spur gave critical run support to slow the Cats' ground game in the 2nd half. Last week, Holloman told me, "I want to be more aggressive on the run. Fighting off blocks is something I have to get used to." Five of his six tackles came on running plays, many of them came in one-on-one situations He capped off his night with a sack and interception on back-to-back plays. Holloman's work didn't go unnoticed by the Head Ball Coach: Steve Spurrier awarded him a game ball in the locker room.
Earlier in the day, Holloman wrote on social media that he planned on taking a nap at the team hotel, so he could "wake up in a bad mood" for the Kentucky offense. His play helped put the Wildcats to sleep in the second half.
And Finally: The Gamecocks topped 30 points in four straight games for the first time since 1987.
Join us next week as we begin our chart prep for Georgia. Thanks for diving "Inside The Chart" with us. --AD--