LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trips to Kentucky haven’t exactly gone according to script for Steve Spurrier in recent years.
Two years ago, the “Ol’ Ball Coach” sustained his first loss to the Wildcats in 18 matchups spanning his career at Florida and South Carolina. On Saturday, the No. 6 Gamecocks faced a 17-7 deficit going into halftime against an upset-minded UK squad.
This time, however, Spurrier would escape Commonwealth Stadium unscathed as South Carolina scored on five of six possessions in the second half to pull away for a 38-17 victory.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, a preseason All-American candidate, had only four carries for 11 yards in the first half, but finished with 120 yards and two scores as the Gamecocks (5-0, 3-0 SEC) methodically wore down a Kentucky defense that had played so admirably in the first half.
"We played a little bit better in the second half than we did in the first half, sort of a turnaround from two years ago when we were up 18 and got beat here," Spurrier said. "Coming in at halftime, I told somebody, we don't have to worry about being overconfident going into the second half or getting full of ourselves like maybe two years ago.
"We had had a better plan," Spurrier continued. "Get in the I-formation, give it to Lattimore, and let him run."
Kentucky (1-4, 0-2 SEC) lost starting quarterback Maxwell Smith to a severe ankle injury on the Wildcats’ first series of the game. True freshman Jalen Whitlow entered in relief and led a pair of touchdown drives in the second quarter – one capped by his own 8-yard scramble for his first career TD – but the Gamecocks clamped down on the UK offense in the second half.
The Wildcats failed to cross midfield after halftime and recorded only 60 total yards against a South Carolina defense that entered the game ranked among the nation’s elite.
"We made plays early in the game," UK coach Joker Phillips said. "... Now we've got to do a better job of finishing."
Whitlow completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards. He also rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, but finished with a net of six yards after sustaining six sacks by the Gamecocks.
Kentucky missed a golden opportunity at the end of the first half when, leading 17-7 in front of a small but electric crowd of 49,810, South Carolina elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34 and snapped the ball over the head of quarterback Conner Shaw for a loss of 24 yards.
The Wildcats rushed for no gain on first down with 1:00 left in the half, but allowed several seconds to expire before burning their final timeout at the :24 mark.
After an incomplete pass on second down, Whitlow showed his lack of experience by scrambling on third down and loosing control of the ball. The Cats' Demarco Robinson recovered the fumble and almost slipped into the end zone before being tackled at the South Carolina 3, but time expired before UK could run another play or salvage a field goal attempt.
It would mark Kentucky's final scoring threat of the night.
"We missed a huge opportunity," Phillips said. "You've got to get some points... I think that was a momentum swing. It was. It was a huge momentum swing."
• X-Rays on Smith's injured ankle proved to be negative. The UK staff said he'll be evaluated over the next 24 hours before giving a status update.
• Freshman defensive back Daron Blaylock blocked a punt for the Wildcats. It marked the first blocked punt for UK since Danny Trevathan recorded one against Georgia on Nov. 8, 2008.
• South Carolina native Donte Rumph notched his second sack of the season and the third of his career. He finished with six tackles.
• UK linebacker/end Alvin “Bud” Dupree finished with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks, marking his first career multi-sack game with the Wildcats.
* UK sophomore linebacker/safety Miles Simpson finished with a career-high 12 tackles.
• Kentucky freshman wide receiver A.J. Legree recorded his first multi-catch game with two receptions for 25 yards.