COLUMBIA, SC--Kentucky entered the ballgame with a reputation as a team that makes smart decisions and takes care of the ball. That team did not make the trip to Columbia, as the Wildcats managed to fumble and stumble their way to a 38-23 whipping at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier moves to 15-0 lifetime against Kentucky, but he felt "fortunate to get the win." "Kentucky outgained us," Spurrier said, look at the stat sheet. "They got more rushing yards than we did, too, and the team that gets more rushing yards usually wins," he said.
Usually. Except when a team fumbles the ball five times, losing three of them, and throws an interception.
On a night when the ESPN lights shined brightly, and Kentucky had the attention of the nation, the offense that had scored 40 or more points in every game this season--a Kentucky record--appeared to have the lights blind them.
Andre Woodson fumbled the ball on Kentucky's first possession inside the 10-yard line. South Carolina's Eric Norwood picked the ball up, running it in for a touchdown, and a 7-0 South Carolina lead they would never relinquish.
That's one. Norwood would pick up a second defensive touchdown later in the game, tying an NCAA record.
And that's the kind of game it was.
Kentucky also suffered an interception in the end zone while driving to break a 10-10 tie in the 2nd quarter. South Carolina would later score and head to halftime with a 17-10 lead, and Kentucky with hopes of putting their game back together. It was not to be.
On the opening possession of the second half, Woodson would fumble again, and--guess who--Norwood again would pick up the fumble and run 53-yards for his second touchdown of the game.
Rafael Little would drop a fair catch, one of two fumbles but the only one lost--a mistake on a night in which he otherwise played well, gaining 135 yards on 25 carries--his fifth 100-yard rushing outing of the season. Tony Dixon also gained 52 yards on seven carries, while Derrick Locke added 22 on two rushes.
Woodson would have a rather ordinary day, passing for 23-40, 227 yards, two touchdowns, one interception. The loss also put a damper on Jacob Tamme moving into the 1,000 yard receiving club, a mark he obtained when catching an 18-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 10. Little also earned another mark in the Kentucky record book, passing George Adams for # 4 on the all-time rushing list in Kentucky history.
South Carolina's freshman quarterback Chris Smelley played like the poised veteran, making clutch play down the stretch and when USC needed it most. Smelley finished the night 11-24, 154 yards, 0 interceptions. Cory Boyd was USC's leading rusher with 52 yards on 12 carries.
Despite the five fumbles and one interception, the Kentucky defense kept the Cats in the game most of the night.
"Kentucky's defense surprised me," Spurrier said. "They stuffed us up front." Spurrier appeared perplexed on how to solve UK's defense.
"It's a fine line," Spurrier said. "You throw the ball, you get sacked. You run the ball, you get stuffed. We tried to find some plays to run against Kentucky. They played tough."
Unfortunately, playing tough is only part of the game. You also have to play smart, and limit your mistakes. Kentucky did neither, and fell to 5-1 (1-1) with the loss. The Cats will next face the # 1 team in the nation, LSU, on CBS television next Saturday afternoon. South Carolina (5-1, 2-1) will travel out of the conference to face North Carolina in Chapel Hill.