The Kentucky Wildcats are on a 4-0 start after escaping Columbia with a 16-10 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks.
After the Cats scored in the opener to take a 7-0 lead, the defense held on as turnovers once again kept this game close. Kentucky are now on a six-game winning streak dating back to last season as they contemplate their clash with the Florida Gators in Lexington next Saturday.
Here is a look at those whose stock has gone up and down in this contest.
Place DeAndrÃ©: Square has clearly solidified itself as a leader in this defense. He led the team in tackles against the Gamecocks with eight and continues to be a positive voice on the court. It’s no coincidence that, as discussed below, Bully McCall ends up on this list after possibly having the best game of his career when Square was on his ear the entire game. Square isn’t a world batsman, but he’s a very talented and very experienced presence in the middle of defense. It is priceless.
Wan’Dale Robinson: Robinson didn’t have his fourth 100-yard receiving game in a row, but he made up 64% of the team’s yards in the air. The 5-11 crossover had seven receptions for 65 yards and one carry for five yards. Robinson did so despite being hampered by a hamstring that almost kept him from playing. It’s impressive. The Cats will need him at full power before Saturday’s game against Eh Gators.
Marquan “Bully” McCall: As mentioned above, Bully had one of his best games as a Wildcat. The box score doesn’t do him justice, as he only had one tackle, but he made his presence known throughout the game. McCall constantly shifted the line of scrimmage and intimidated South Carolina’s offensive line all night long. There have been several times McCall has been detained although he did not receive the call. With the lack of rush in the UK, McCall does it more often is imperative.
JJ Weaver: Weaver has been sacked once again as he now has four out of four games to start the year. Many were concerned about his abilities after ACL surgery, but Weaver put that aside. Kentucky is sorely lacking in rush, but the second has proven to be the one BBN can count on. It’s only a matter of time before Weaver reaches a positive draft position.
Matt Ruffolo: Ruffolo is generally remembered for that missed extra point which costs the Cats the game against the Ole Miss Rebels last season. Since then it has been quite simply reliable. After being 3/3 in the baskets last night, the Italian meatball is now 20/24 in his career. He doesn’t have the biggest leg, but Kentucky can feel confident to put him in the 50s. Having a kicker you trust is important and there’s no doubt he’ll win the UK one. game or two this season.
Defense: Last night we saw the Kentucky defense we all know and love. It hasn’t been the best of the season start on this side of the ball, but they have been very good in Colombia. The Cats limited Gamecock’s offense to just 12 first downs and 216 total yards. They also held up on the important downs as South Carolina was 3-12 on the third down and 0-3 on the fourth down. With the UK returning the ball three times, the defense has somewhat limited the Cocks to just 51 games. It’s absolutely crazy, but it’s a testament to this team. Hopefully that’s the defense we see moving forward.
Smoke Kavosiey: Smoke has had its fair share of sustainability issues, but the talent has always been there and has always been apparent. He had a limited workload last night, but he looked good carrying the ball nine times over 50 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run. That 15-yard run turned out to be the only touchdown of the game for the Cats, so it was incredibly crucial to the win. As long as he can keep the ball and stay healthy, Smoke will continue to hit more as the season progresses.
Chris Rodriguez: Rodriguez has once again proven to be the workhorse. He totaled 144 yards on 26 carries while sealing the Cats’ fourth quarter victory as he turned the clock.
Rodriguez had two fumbles which could have put him on the drop list, but luckily UK was able to jump on both. Ball safety continues to be an issue, and it needs to be cleaned up, but this team’s identity is still strong despite their ability to open it up in the passing game more than in previous years. And Rodriguez is the perfect man for the job.
The talented fullback now has three 100-yard games in his first four games this season. Chattanooga was obviously an outlier, as was the rest of the team. The cats must continue to feed Rodriguez and let him run wild.
Valentin carrington: Valentin has been chosen so far this season, but he held on last night. He was second on the team in tackles with four, including a sack and a tackle for a loss. He hasn’t given up on any big play, and it looks like other teams targeting him have helped him improve. We’ll see if this continues, but you better believe he played a part in improving the defense this week.
Kentucky -5 bettors: The Cats came into the game as 5-point favorites and barely held on for cover. I’m sure a lot of you were sweating. Always play responsibly, but remember that great teams winâ¦ great teams cover.
Josh ali: Ali returned for his super senior season to improve his draft stock, and it looked like he was heading in the right direction after making five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. However, it has slowed down lately and last night was to be forgotten. Ali had four receptions for 14 yards and two carries for two yards. The biggest problem was that he groped his way over the two rush attempts, which were in the end. One was on a first run, the other with Kentucky in the red zone, and both were lost. Kentucky doesn’t have much depth in the receiving body so Ali will continue to see the pitch but the UK need him to pick it up to hit their ceiling.
The turnover margin: The statistics that I am about to present to you are both impressive and disturbing. Kentucky has a -9 turnover margin over four games, which is good for the end in all college football.
Since 2000, 7 SEC teams have had a combined revenue margin of -9 or worse in their first 4 games of a season. Of these 7 teams, only 1 started its season 4-0 (2021 @UKFootball).
– Corey Award (@ coreyp08) September 26, 2021
Since 2000, 22 SEC teams have had at least 11 combined turnovers in their first 4 games of a season. Of those 22 teams, only 2 started their season 4-0 (2011 South Carolina, 2021 @UKFootball)
– Corey Award (@ coreyp08) September 26, 2021
The two statistics above are impressive, but they are also of concern. Kentucky needs to clean up, or they risk losing three games in a row and maybe more. The floor of this team looks like eight wins, but the ceiling could reach 10 or 11 if they launch the attack, keep that defense we saw last night, and clean up the looseness. The good news: This 2011 South Carolina team, which recorded 11 turnovers in four games, just like Kentucky, was 11-2. I think we would all be happy with this result.