The sixth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks will try to continue their steady ascent in the national rankings as they hit the road to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in SEC action.
Two of South Carolina's four wins have already come in the league play. It went on the road to defeat Vanderbilt on opening night, 17-13, and then beat up on Missouri last week at home, 31-10.
"It was a really good win for our guys, a lot of guys played well," head coach Steve Spurrier said following the Missouri game. "I think it was evident we were a little stronger than Missouri. It was a wonderful victory and we're happy to get it."
The win was the Gamecocks' eighth straight dating back to last season, and they have now won 10 in a row against SEC Eastern Division rivals, with their last division loss coming against Kentucky in 2010.
After playing tough in its first three games against Louisville (32-14 loss), Kent State (47-14 win) and Western Kentucky (32-31 loss), there was very little positive that Kentucky could take out of its last game against nationally-ranked Florida, falling to the Gators in a 38-0 shutout. It was the first time the Wildcats have been blanked since Oct. 14, 2006 when they lost to LSU, 49-0.
This matchup marks the 24th meeting between these two programs, with South Carolina holding a 15-7-1 advantage. The Gamecocks dismantled the Wildcats last year in Columbia, 54-3.
The South Carolina offense (36.2 ppg, 424.2 ypg) is run through junior quarterback Connor Shaw, who is fresh off a record-setting performance last week against Missouri.
Shaw battled injuries in the early part of the season, but bounced back strong by completing an SEC-record 20 consecutive passes, finishing the day 20-of-21 for 249 yards and two touchdowns en route to being named SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week. He now has 423 yards passing and three touchdowns on the season, while adding another 127 yards rushing.
Marcus Lattimore has yet to put up the kind of monster game that he's become accustomed to, but the results are still there week in and week out, as he has gained 320 yards on 69 carries with six touchdowns.
Lattimore is also the team's leading receiver with 13 receptions, albeit for just 93 yards. Bruce Ellington (10 receptions, 178 yards) and Damiere Byrd (seven receptions, 214 yards, TD) are the preferred targets down the field, and Rory Anderson is a valuable red-zone target with half of his six catches being touchdowns.
The USC defense is one of the nation's best, holding opponents to fewer than 10 ppg. The unit was especially dominant against a high-powered Mizzou offense last week, holding the Tigers to 255 yards and 2-of-12 success on third-down conversion attempts.
All-SEC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has gotten off to a fast start, leading the team in both tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (4.5). Chaz Sutton has taken advantage of opposing defenses keying on Clowney, recording three sacks himself.
Shaq Wilson leads the team with 25 total tackles, and he also has two of the Gamecocks' five interceptions.
For Kentucky, the offense has performed well under quarterback Maxwell Smith (102-of-149, 966 yards, eight TDs, four INTs), but he had to miss the Florida game due to a shoulder injury, causing the unit to sputter. His status for this game is unknown, but head coach Joker Phillips is optimistic he can suit up.
"He's a lot further along on Sunday than he was last Sunday, obviously," Phillips said of his quarterback. "We decided not to play him (last week) to give us a chance to make a decision for this week."
If Smith can't play, Morgan Newton will get another start hoping to improve upon his dreadful performance against the Gators (7-of-21, 48 yards, three INTs).
With CoShik Williams sidelined, Raymond Sanders (201 yards, TD) and Jonathan George (155 yards, three TDs) have split carries in the backfield, combining for more than six yards per attempt.
La'Rod King continues to showcase himself as one of the conference's most sure-handed receivers with 26 catches for 227 yards and two scores. Aaron Boyd (18 catches, 168 yards) has also emerged after logging just six catches in his first three seasons combined.
The Wildcats defense has struggled (29 ppg, 400.2 ypg), and they showed no signs of being able to slow down a top-notch SEC offense last week.
Avery Williamson is among the league leaders in tackles with 41, and he also has one of the team's two interceptions. Alvin Dupree (five TFL, two sacks) and Collins Ukwu (2.5 sacks) have done a good job making plays behind the line of scrimmage.