Kentucky football vs. South Carolina: Betting line, 3 things to know before picking

Brett Dawson
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — The Kentucky football team in 2021 did a lot of things right. 

But it didn’t respond so well the first time things went wrong. 

This version of the Wildcats will look to better navigate those circumstances Saturday, when No. 13 UK (4-1, 1-1 SEC) hosts South Carolina (3-2, 0-2) at Kroger Field. 

Kentucky is coming off its first loss of the season, a 22-19 setback at Ole Miss on Saturday, and these Cats will hope to handle it better than last season’s did. UK’s first loss last fall came at Georgia on Oct. 16, and losses — at Mississippi State and at home against Tennessee — followed in each of the next two weeks. 

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Those Cats didn’t lose again. But tripping up in triplicate spoiled a shot at an even more spectacular season. The hope this time around is that UK doesn’t lose its way after one loss. 

“I will coach against it, guard against it, talk about it, but one of the first things I said in the locker room (at Ole Miss) is one can't become two,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Everybody is heated and emotional after a big game like that, and our guys know the belief is there. I think the intensity needs to come back.”

The Cats will look to find it this week against a South Carolina team that has shown improvement despite an 0-2 SEC start. The Gamecocks have dropped games against then-No. 16 Arkansas and then-No. 1 Georgia — “two really good SEC teams,” UK offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. 

Three things to know as Kentucky looks to get back in the win column:

Stoops’ series success

Sep 24, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops walks onto the field during a timeout in the second quarter against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina has helped boost Stoops’ record at Kentucky. He’s 7-2 against the Gamecocks, and one of those losses came in his first season, when the Wildcats went 0-8 in the SEC. 

South Carolina’s only other win against Stoops came in 2019, against a UK team that finished the season 8-5. That snapped a five-game Kentucky winning streak in the series. 

The series has been one-sided in recent years, but not always lopsided. Four of Stoops’ seven wins against the Gamecocks have come by seven points or fewer. Last season’s 10-win Kentucky team won 16-10 in Columbia, South Carolina, the only meeting so far between Stoops and the Gamecocks’ current coach, Shane Beamer. 

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Cats’ goal: Rattle Rattler

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) signals to a wide receiver during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against South Carolina State on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

South Carolina is scoring 35.6 points per game, a number buoyed in part by the play of quarterback Spencer Rattler, a transfer from Oklahoma and the No. 1 quarterback in the high school class of 2019, per the 247Sports Composting rankings. 

Stoops has been watching Rattler since his OU days and said the 6-foot-1, 200-pound QB “has a very talented arm and can make all the throws.” But consistency has eluded him throughout his career. 

Rattler had a big game this season at Arkansas — 24-of-39 passing, 377 yards, a touchdown and an interception — but was held in check against Georgia, completing 13 of 25 throws with two picks and no TDs. 

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The Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks 48-7. They’re the only team to hold South Carolina to fewer than 30 points this season. 

Though his non-SEC competition has been suspect — Georgia State, Charlotte, South Carolina State — Rattler has thrown two interceptions in three of his five games this season, and he has more picks (seven) than TD passes (four). 

Keeping him in check is key for a UK defense that’s tied for third in the FBS in fewest passing touchdowns allowed (two) and ranks 17th in passing yardage surrendered (173.6 yards per game). 

Rodriguez’s big numbers

Oct 1, 2022; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) hands the ball off to running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) during the second quarter against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

UK running back Chris Rodriguez scored his first career touchdown in that 2019 loss to South Carolina. 

In the years since, he’s done his best to help Kentucky avoid another. 

Rodriguez ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns in the Cats’ 2020 win over the Gamecocks. Last season he ran for 144 yards. 

In three career games against South Carolina, Rodriguez has carried 46 times for 348 yards. Only Vanderbilt (392) has surrendered more yards to the senior. 

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Rodriguez said there’s nothing “in particular” about playing the Gamecocks that leads to big numbers, though he concedes some extra motivation last season, when a friend who attends the school sent trash-talking texts vowing a South Carolina win. 

Rodriguez’s response: “All right, bro.” 

South Carolina this season is allowing 185.4 yards per game on the ground. That ranks 106th in the FBS. 

What is the betting line on the Kentucky-South Carolina game?

Kentucky is favored by 6.5 points, according to the VegasInsider.com consensus line.

Prediction: Kentucky 27, South Carolina 17

Sep 24, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

In his experience, Scangarello said, this is about the time when an offensive line “really starts to click,” and he saw signs of improvement against Ole Miss and this week in practice. 

That’s important for a porous pass protection — QB Will Levis has been sacked 19 times — against a South Carolina team that has only four sacks. This should be a week to get some things right on the o-line (or maybe to worry if it still looks rocky). 

Kentucky’s defense was locked in last week against the Rebels, and assuming it is again, the Gamecocks should struggle to score enough to have a shot late. But the schedule toughens from here, making it a critical weekend for offensive improvement. 

Reach Louisville men’s basketball reporter Brett Dawson and bdawson@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @BDawsonWrites.