South Carolina battles the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night, with both teams trying to avoid an 0-3 start to SEC play.
Familiar opponents with familiar problems
It turns out that the Wildcats and the Gamecocks have a lot in common.
Both teams lost to a team currently ranked in the top 10 and then followed it up with a disappointing loss the following week to begin SEC play. Kentucky lost to Florida in dramatic fashion and then mustered only 13 points in a loss to unranked Mississippi State.
South Carolina, meanwhile, hasn’t been much better. The Gamecocks were blown out 47-23 by Alabama and overwhelmed by Missouri in a 34-14 loss.
Both squads have also had to replace their starting quarterback early in the season. The Wildcats lost starter Terry Wilson to a knee injury in a 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan on Sept. 7. They have since turned to junior Sawyer Smith, a transfer from Troy.
Smith has seen his fair share of ups and downs in his first two starts. His 267 yards and two touchdowns against Florida gave Kentucky fans a strong early impression, but his three interceptions helped Florida complete the comeback. Against Mississippi State, Smith only completed 15 of his 41 passes, didn’t throw a touchdown, and tossed a pick in the 28-13 loss. To make matters worse, according to head coach Mark Stoops, Smith is dealing with a shoulder injury.
Smith will likely play Saturday night, but it is something to keep an eye on.
South Carolina lost starting quarterback Jake Bentley during its Week 1 loss to North Carolina. Bentley’s season was over after he broke his foot and needed surgery.
In his place, the Gamecocks inserted freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski. He, too, has displayed the inconsistencies of a first-time starter in the SEC.
Hilinski easily lit up FCS opponent Charleston Southern for 282 yards and two touchdowns in the Gamecocks’ 72-10 win. He also performed decently well against the Crimson Tide. He completed 36 of his 57 passes for 324 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the loss. However, he struggled against Missouri, including throwing a pick-six in the end zone.
As Kentucky battles the Gamecocks, whichever backup-turned-starting quarterback plays better might be the deciding factor.