LEXINGTON, Ky, (KT) — Benny Snell rushed for 99 yards and scored a touchdown to lead 17th-ranked Kentucky to a 24-10 win over South Carolina Saturday night.
The Wildcats (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) opened league play with three consecutive victories for the first time since 1977 and are one game away from becoming bowl eligible with seven games remaining in the regular season.
“I really loved the way our team started,” Stoops said. “We knew we had to start fast. We knew we had to limit big plays by them. We gave up the one off a scramble and just a missed judged ball, really had an opportunity to intercept it, but give Deebo (Samuel) credit. He makes a nice catch and run.
“Outside of that, I thought our defense did an exceptional job of limiting big plays. We were able to play one short in the run game most of the night to put hands on and be able to protect us a little bit better, more than we normally would in coverage, and that’s why you saw some rush yards early and got a little soft in there at times, but we were trying to limit explosive plays. And also I thought we did a good job on third downs, in some critical third downs.
Behind Snell and quarterback Terry Wilson, the Wildcats racked up 327 yards of offense against the Gamecocks, paving the way for a fifth straight victory South Carolina. Wilson rushed for 59 yards and a score, while A.J. Rose collected 38 yards and added a touchdown. Kentucky rushed for 195 yards.
“It was a quiet night for (Benny), but again, really solid start, some good physical runs,” Stoops said. “It was really nice to see A.J. get some good carries and see the explosive run that he had. Again you saw his speed and him with a nice little change up right there. It’s not easy when you’re sitting there pounding Benny at you all day long and then you bring in A.J. who has great size and great speed and so, yeah he did a nice job.”
Although Kentucky’s offense provided the scoring, the defense set the tone in the first quarter on a forced fumble and recovery by Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones inside the red zone. Even though the Wildcats managed just field goal, the turnover was enough to inspire the defense, which forced four turnovers, including two down the stretch.
Derrick Baity had an interception in the second quarter and Darius West picked off a Jake Bentley pass in the third frame. Mike Edwards joined in the action with an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Josh Allen also was a force on defense with three sacks, including two in the fourth frame as the Gamecocks switched to desperation mode
Kentucky moved to 5-0 for the first time since 2007.
Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel was ejected for targeting following an interception by teammate Darius West with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter. Daniel collected eight tackles against the Gamecocks before leaving in the third quarter. He will have to also sit out the first half of Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.
“He’s bummed out with himself,” Stoops said. “I felt like we always, early in the week, we talk about whatever the situation’s going to be. Another big game at home and all that. And at times we could handle this situation better than we did tonight. We didn’t handle it quite as good as we did a week ago, in my opinion. So the guy’s got to reign it back in a little bit.
“There was nothing malicious about that. He didn’t mean to target somebody, it was very, very close, from what I could tell, and so it’s disappointing. But again, teaching moment for us about peel back blocks and all that stuff.”
Kentucky, which had not given up a touchdown in the third quarter this season, saw that streak come to an end against the Gamecocks when Bentley connected on a 58-yard touchdown strike to teammate Deebo Samuel for the Gamecocks’ first touchdown of the contest with 3:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Kentucky will take on Texas A&M in its second road game in the SEC Saturday, setting up a showdown between Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
Stoops served as Fisher’s defensive coordinator at Florida State from 2009-13 while the pair were at Florida State. Fisher is in his first season at Texas A&M. The Aggies defeated Arkansas 24-17 Saturday and are 3-2 on the season.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Stoops said. “Jimbo is a very good coach. He’s one of those guys that, he’s a play caller, he attacks and he will, he doesn’t just run plays, he’ll dissect what you’re doing and attack it and he’s very good, a very good coach.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.