Know Your Opponent: Kentucky

Here’s some important information about Kentucky, South Carolina’s week two opponent.

Record: 1-0 (0-0 SEC).

What happened last week: Kentucky saw a 23-point second-half lead disappear before finally topping upset-minded Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 thanks to a 12-yard touchdown by running back Mikel Horton with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats led 33-10 with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Louisiana-Lafayette scored 23 straight points in less than 10 minutes. The Ragin Cajuns’ comeback bid would end there, however.

Last head-to-head matchup: South Carolina fans surely never want to recall what happened the last time the Gamecocks and the Wildcats met, but while we’re on the subject, how about a refresher?

Kentucky overcame a 14-point fourth quarter deficit, tying the game with less than three minutes remaining on Jojo Kemp’s third touchdown of the night before an Alvin Dupree pick-six put the Wildcats ahead 45-38.

South Carolina’s collapse overshadowed a 183-yard, three-touchdown performance by former Gamecock Mike Davis.

Head coach spotlight: Now in his third season as Kentucky’s head coach, Mark Stoops is optimistic his team can make a bowl game for the first time since 2010.

There are indeed reasons to be optimistic. The Wildcats’ win tally has improved in each of his two seasons in Lexington and Stoops’ has done wonders on the recruiting trail for Kentucky.

After inheriting what was left of former head coach Joker Phillips’ program, Stoops coached Kentucky to just two wins in 2013 before winning five in 2014, despite going winless in the final six games of the season.

Like his brothers Bob (Oklahoma head coach) and Mike (Oklahoma defensive coordinator), Stoops is a defensive-minded coach, which is why it’s a bit surprising that Kentucky gave up an average of 31.2 points per game during his first two seasons.

However, Kentucky took a step forward on offense in 2014 as the Wildcats averaged 29.2 points per game (62nd nationally) one year after scoring only 20.5 points per contest.

A player to know on offense: After a quality freshman season, big things are expected out of Kentucky running back Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams in 2015.

Williams was one of Stoops’ first big-time recruits after taking the Kentucky job and Williams showed glimpses of his playmaking ability in 2014, rushing for 486 yards (a team-best) on just 74 carries in 10 games. Williams started off his 2015 campaign with a 135-yard performance against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Most folks remember Kemp running right through the Gamecock defense in last year’s game, but it could be Williams doing the same in this season’s matchup if South Carolina can’t clog up running lanes.

A player to know on defense: The only Wildcat to appear on any of the three 2015 preseason All-SEC teams, senior safety A.J. Stamps (a third-team selection) is a bright spot on a Kentucky defense that has struggled during the past few years.

Stamps, a junior college transfer, made an immediate impact in his first year as a Wildcat as he intercepted four passes and recorded five pass breakups, while making 56 tackles.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Mitch must be smart with his decisions for a second straight week, or he could be victimized by Kentucky’s biggest ball-hawk.

What the Wildcats did well last week: The Kentucky running game helped Stoops’ team jump out to a huge lead against Louisiana-Lafayette and it was the running game that also saved the Wildcats from an embarrassing defeat.

Kentucky’s stable of running backs — Williams, Kemp and Horton — combined for 197 yards on 19 carries against the Ragin Cajuns and Stoops was very pleased with his team’s ability to run the ball.

“All the backs had their moments,” Stoops said in his press conference following the Louisiana-Lafayette game.

Surely, Kentucky will try to establish the run against South Carolina, a team which gave up 208 yards on the ground against North Carolina.

What the Wildcats did poorly last week: Based on its track record, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Kentucky allowed Louisiana-Lafayette to score 33 points and gain 479 yards. But from the Wildcats’ point of view, it has to be disappointing, though.

Leading 33-10 late in the third quarter, Kentucky couldn’t protect what seemed like a safe lead as it’s defense fell apart and allowed three touchdowns, plus two two-point conversions in what felt like a blink of an eye.

Whether or not it had to do with a lack of focus or schematic problems, a collapse of that magnitude isn’t something you want happening, especially not in the future against SEC opponents.