If you watched the beginning of this game, it seemed that the stars had aligned for Kentucky football. Despite the fact you saw starting quarterback Max Smith being carried off the field with an ankle injury. It didn’t matter that freshman QB Jalen Whitlow would be playing his first major minutes against a South Carolina defensive line that is one of the best in the country. Against the #6 team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats came out to play and began to fight!
After South Carolina drives all the way down to the Kentucky redzone, the defense steps up in the biggest way I have seen all season long. The defense shut down not one, but two goal-line pushes from the Gamecock offensive line. The defense was so fired up to walk off the field and not give up those points after USC went for the QB keeper on 4th and less than a yard. Kentucky now had to drive down the field 99 yards to pay dirt. Raymond Sanders was a strait up beast, carrying the ball and pushing forward. Sanders was breaking through the USC defense, keeping his feet moving, and falling forward for more yards. Jalen Whitlow was able to drive Kentucky all the way down to just outside of the redzone before Kentucky had to settle for the field goal. The Wildcats just missed on scoring their first touchdown since Nov of ’10, but that didn’t matter. The Kentucky Wildcats were leading the 6th ranked team in the nation by three at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the magic continued. After South Carolina received the ball, they were able to drive down the field and score their first touchdown of the game and take the lead. The score was 7-3, and the sails in the wind of Kentucky fell just a bit. However, the Kentucky offense took the field again and would not be denied. South Carolina had a costly 15=yard facemask penalty that allowed the Wildcats to march down to the Carolina 35-yard line. After a Whitlow pass for 5 yards to A.J. Legree, Raymond Sanders ran 17-yards down the field to the Carolina 12-yard line. After a quarterback keeper that brought the ‘Cats down to the 8, QB Jalen Whitlow faked out a defensive lineman and scampered in the endzone for the touchdown. The Wildcats lead 10-7.
The defense was playing out of their minds, hitting and sacking South Carolina QB Connor Shaw twice. After another South Carolina penalty, the Wildcats forced another 4th and out and forced the Gamecocks to punt. Kentucky now had the ball, and the lead in the middle of the 2nd quarter. A pass from Jalen Whitlow was tipped straight up in the air by a South Carolina defender and caught on the edge of the sideline by Daryl Collins which brought Kentucky back into the South Carolina redzone once again. At that point, you know that Kentucky just seemed to have everything falling their way. After the tip pass that lead the ‘Cats down to the 10-yard line, Raymond Sanders went strait beast once again. Sanders ran up the middle of the much heralded South Carolina defense and scored another touchdown for the Wildcats. Kentucky is now ahead 17-7.
South Carolina takes over back on offense at the 1:25 mark in the 2nd quarter. The UK defense forces a Gamecock 3rd & 2, and South Carolina wants to run QB Connor Shaw for the first down. The Kentucky defense stood up and said no. Shaw maybe got a yard on the QB keeper and the Wildcat defense forces USC into another 4th down. The Gamecocks decide to go for it on 4th & 1, the ball is hiked and sails over the head of QB Connor Shaw. Shaw starts running backwards towards the endzone trying to chase down the loose ball, and then Taylor “Tebow-killer” Wyndham lays a big hit into the chest of the Carolina QB and recovers the ball for the ‘Cats. Now Kentucky has the ball with 1:00 to go before halftime, score is still 17-7 in favor of UK.
Kentucky lines up on 1st down and rushes Raymond Sanders for no gain, and the clock starts ticking. The Wildcats have used all of their timeouts, and the clock is still ticking. Jalen Whitlow is pointing and signaling, and the clock is still ticking. Then the offense all looks up and towards the sideline, and you guessed it. The clock is still ticking. Finally, the coaching staff has to burn a timeout with :24 secs. left. If you didn’t feel the wheels start to come off on that play, just wait. After La’Rod King makes a catch out of bounds, Kentucky is on 3rd down and the clock is stopped. Next play, Whitlow rushes into a wall of defenders. The ball is suddenly rolling on the ground towards the endzone, bodies are falling. Somehow, a blue shirt falls on the ball, and the spot is at the South Carolina 1-yard line. During that whole elongated fumble exchange, the clock was ticking. Now Kentucky hurries to line up and get set to punch in the ball from the one, and can’t even get the ball snapped. Halftime.
After the horrible time management decision to burn :36 secs. off the clock looking at each other, Kentucky bobbles any chance of adding to their lead and momentum before the half. A combination of those bad plays, and the halftime break seemed to take the energy out of the once rockin’ Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky was to receive the ball on offense to begin the second half, so optimism is still running high. The Wildcats come out of the locker room and begin the half by going 4 & out on their first drive and only allowing 2:50 to run off the clock. Punt goes to South Carolina, and the momentum swing is on.
The first two plays of the Gamecock drive saw running back Marcus Lattimore run two times for 15 yards. Kentucky’s middle offensive line had been doing an amazing job on Lattimore in the first half, allowing him only 12-yards total. After a short pass, Connor Shaw runs back to back plays for a total of 25 more yards. Then the bomb from Shaw to the endzone, caught by Damiere Byrd for a 30 yd. touchdown strike. Gamecocks now only down by three, 17-14. The next Kentucky drive saw the ‘Cats going absolutely nowhere. A small two yard pass play, a sack, and an incompletion brings up a Kentucky 4th down and punt back to South Carolina. The Gamecocks methodically used their pass and run game effectively mixing in both styles and marched down the field on the UK defensive line. With Shaw’s passes and Lattimore’s runs, the Gamecocks drive all the way down to the Kentucky 17-yard line. Shaw then hands off to running back Kenny Myles who takes it to the house for six. South Carolina regains the lead 21-17.
The next Kentucky drive was more of the same. The Wildcats began playing ineffectively on the offensive side of the ball, and the freshman QB Jalen Whitlow was trying his best to make any play he knew how to make. He passed off to Raymond Sanders, who was bottled up. Whitlow ran from defenders before being sacked for a big loss. Add a 5-yard false start penalty and Kentucky is looking at 3rd and 21. What’s the 3rd down play? A quarterback keeper for a gain of 1-yard, and a punt back to South Carolina. After regaining the lead, the Gamecocks decided to really punch UK right in the mouth. Between Connor Shaw, Lattimore, and Myles, a total of ten rushing plays in a row gutted the much maligned Wildcat defensive line. After one pass play, the Gamecocks let Shaw run for a few, and then finished off the drive with Lattimore running over the defense into the endzone for the touchdown. South Carolina now ahead comfortably, 28-17.
With 6:37 to go in the 4th quarter, Jalen Whitlow made his only true big mistake of the night. The freshman QB was easily picked off by a South Carolina defender and allowed the Gamecocks to set up shop at the Kentucky 12-yard line. All they have to do now is hand it to Marcus Lattimore a couple of times, and we have another touchdown. It’s 35-17, and the fans in blue are starting to head for the exit rows. After a few garbage plays from the Kentucky offense, which included having Jalen Whitlow get sacked again, the offense stalls out once again and is forced to punt. The punt was shanked badly and allowed South Carolina great field position to pour a little more salt into the wound. With the backup QB, South Carolina rushes for a couple of yards and kicks a field goal to make it 38-17.
I learned tonight that this team can play at a very high level. The first 19 and 1/2 minutes of play were the best I have seen all year long against comparable competition. The pain of defeat does sting a little more because the optimism was so high. The feelings was very different from the Western Kentucky game that went into overtime. That loss really hurt the heart. However, the euphoric 1st half was awesome to see from this program. The other stanzas reminded you of the struggles that Kentucky has faced all year long. Max Smith was seen on crutches and hobbling around on the sideline. No timetable has yet been told about how much longer he could be out. Jalen Whitlow played a very impressive game for a freshman against the #6 team in the nation. I was proud of the way the young man played.
One more small note I will add, only because I notice such things. I couldn’t help but see opposing playess picking each other up after plays were over. I saw Whitlow get picked back up after a sack, and a pat on the helmet. I loved some of the sportsmanship that was being displayed between both teams, and the realization that it is all just a game. It was a very nice 19 and 1/2 minutes for us ‘Cat fans, but the end was very familiar.
Filed Under: Football
About the Author: Writer for StraitCats.com, lifelong UK fan, college sports enthusiast. Twitter: BrianLewis_SP