WHO: Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC) at No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 1-1)
WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Carolinas
LINE: USC by 21
COLUMBIA — A year ago, South Carolina was blindsided at Kentucky.
Two plays into what would become another easy blowout in a series the Gamecocks dominate, USC’s defense knocked Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith out of the game. Backup Jalen Whitlow entered. Whitlow quickly knocked USC’s defense on its heels.
The Wildcats scored on three of their next four possessions. They had a 10-point halftime lead. The Gamecocks didn’t know what hit them, regrouping only after they found the shelter of their halftime locker room.
Kentucky won’t have the element of surprise when it travels to South Carolina for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Wildcats (1-3) have played Smith and Whitlow at quarterback almost equally this season. This week, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he wanted to decide on one quarterback and leave the other on the sideline.
The Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 SEC East) prepared to defend both quarterbacks anyway.
“They’re two different kinds of quarterbacks,” USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “We know if (Whitlow) is in the ballgame, they’re probably going to run the football a lot more than (Smith), and (Smith) is more of the passing quarterback. But we’re going to have to stop both of them. They played both all season, and we fully expect them to play both this game.”
It will be the first time this season the Gamecocks defend a two-quarterback offense, something that has been used sparingly in the SEC this fall. South Carolina and Kentucky are the only two SEC teams with multiple quarterbacks who have thrown more than 40 passes this fall.
Freshman linebacker Skai Moore said preparing for two quarterbacks doesn’t make the game plan much more complicated.
“When (Whitlow is) in the game, we’re keying the run a lot more,” Moore said. “We don’t really expect (Smith) to be a factor in the running game. So right now, we’re going over the film and going over the formations and seeing what their tendencies are, and making adjustments in our scheme to stop those guys.
“I don’t feel like it’s that much more challenging. We take it like any other game. Each team is going to have something new to show us, so we just adjust to it.”
USC’s defense will run more sub-packages against Kentucky, tailoring its schemes to which quarterback is in the game. But defensive line coach Deke Adams said the Gamecocks won’t change their defense completely. The same core principles of USC’s 4-2-5 system will be used to defend Smith and Whitlow.
“We’ll do some things that will give us a chance to be a little bit more successful against each in each phase,” Adams said. “We’ll make some tweaks here and there, but we won’t just totally change everything.”
Even as the Gamecocks prepared to stop two quarterbacks this week, secondary coach Grady Brown said the defense focused much more on its own game. The defense knows it can’t repeat the issues it had last week at Central Florida.
Against Kentucky, USC gets a chance to clean up its own mistakes.
“From a secondary standpoint, we really have our own issues,” Brown said. “It’s not much about which quarterback we’re facing, moreso about our ability to do our job at a high level throughout the game — every quarter, every time we get the chance to take the field.”