Each week, Rixon Lane will examine South Carolina's overall series against its upcoming opponent and detail three previous wins in the series for the Gamecocks and the seasons in which they occurred. This week's history lesson features the Kentucky Wildcats.
South Carolina has not had great historical success against many SEC teams, but Kentucky has been the exception. The Gamecocks hold a 17-8-1 advantage in the series with their Eastern Division foes and have won their last seven home contests with the Wildcats.
However, South Carolina is trying avoid a two-game losing skid against Kentucky for just the third time ever.
Here's a look back at three of South Carolina's victories over the Wildcats, including a pair of comebacks by struggling offenses.
Carlen's Last Stand
The 1981 matchup with the Wildcats appeared to be a pivotal contest for the 2-3 Gamecocks. South Carolina had not won a road game in the month of October since 1975 and was coming off back-to-back losses against ranked opponents Georgia and Pittsburg. The Gamecocks were off to their worst start since 1974, the year Paul Dietzel resigned, and head coach Jim Carlen needed a win in the worst kind of way. Meanwhile, Kentucky was muddling through the season at 1-3. Fran Curci, head coach of the Wildcats, had led UK to a 10-1 record in 1977, but appeared to be on his way out the door.
The Wildcats marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead on the opening drive, but South Carolina dominated from that point on. The Gamecock offense, wildly inconsistent for the first five games of the year, recorded 217 yards on the ground and 136 through the air. Kentucky would not score another offensive touchdown in the game and the only points in the second half for the Wildcats came courtesy of a 50-yard return of a blocked field goal. South Carolina held Kentucky's offense to 147 total yards as the Gamecocks notched a 28-14 victory in Lexington..
The win over the Wildcats would mark the start of a four-game streak for the Gamecocks. South Carolina went on to beat Virginia, #3 North Carolina and N.C. State over the next three weeks. However, the Gamecocks ended the year with losses to Pacific, Clemson and Hawaii, which led to the firing of Jim Carlen.
Getting It Wright
South Carolina's offense was scuffling as the Gamecocks welcomed Kentucky to Columbia in 1997. South Carolina was coming off a home loss to 8th-ranked Auburn that saw the Gamecocks rush for -3 yards on 31 carries and score no offensive touchdowns. South Carolina had the fourth-worst offense in the SEC. On the other side of the ball, the defense had to face Tim Couch and the Wildcats, who boasted the conference's most explosive offense and were riding high following a 40-34 overtime win over #20 Alabama the previous week.
South Carolina fell behind early as Couch connected on seven of nine passes on Kentucky's opening drive to put the Wildcats up 7-0. Before Couch and the offense could get back on the field, Craig Yeast returned a Gamecock punt 85 yards to put the 'Cats up by 14 points. However, the second quarter would belong to South Carolina as the Gamecocks scored 24 points to take a 10-point lead into halftime. In the second half, Anthony Wright, who would finish the day 15-of-27 for 223 yards and three touchdowns, found Jermale Kelly for a pair of 26-yard scores. South Carolina's defense twice stopped Kentucky inside the five-yard line. Lee Wiggins blocked a Wildcat field goal in the fourth quarter to thwart a scoring opportunity for UK and South Carolina held Couch to under 300 yards passing for the first time all season. Making his first start of the season, Boo Williams rushed for 93 yards on 24 carries and the Gamecocks racked up 204 yards on the ground. South Carolina won 38-24 for just its second home win ever over Kentucky and its first SEC win of the season.
The Gamecocks reeled off two more victories over Arkansas and Vanderbilt before being swept by the "Orange Crush" portion of the schedule to end the season at 5-6, their second losing record in three years. South Carolina would go 1-21 over the next two seasons.
A Failure To Communicate
Few programs were dealing with a bigger spotlight than South Carolina in 2013. The Gamecocks were coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons, but the main attraction for the Gamecocks was junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Rock Hill native had set the college football world on fire the previous season and was considered a lock to be the #1 pick in the next NFL Draft. However, Clowney had not lived up to the massive hype in the opening weeks. He had played two games while dealing with viruses and was suffering from bone spurs in his foot. In the days leading up to #13 South Carolina's clash with Kentucky, Clowney had missed practice with bruised ribs.
Clowney informed his coaches before kickoff that he would be unable to go against the Wildcats. South Carolina appeared to be fine without his services, leading 21-0 in the first half and 27-7 entering the fourth quarter. However, as they had done several times earlier in the season, the Gamecocks nearly squandered a large lead and Connor Shaw and Mike Davis were forced to run out the final four minutes of the clock to preserve a 35-28 victory. The victory was South Carolina 14th consecutive win at Williams-Brice Stadium and Steve Spurrier's 20th win over the Wildcats, making him the only active coach in college football to notch 20 wins against one opponent.
South Carolina would go on to win seven of its final eight games and finish 11-2 for the third consecutive season. Despite a drop in numbers, Clowney was selected #1 overall by the Houston Texans in the 2014 NFL Draft.