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October 4, 2013

Five keys to victory

South Carolina aims for its fourth win of the season Saturday against a reeling Kentucky team. Here are five keys for the Gamecocks to dive into the meat of their SEC schedule with a win.

Feed Mike Davis. Davis has been the heart and soul of the offense thus far, and there's no use changing that up against Kentucky. The sophomore ranks first in the SEC with 127 yards per game and third in the conference with six touchdowns, and his workload will only increase now that Brandon Wilds is sidelined.

Davis will face a Wildcat front seven that ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 200.75 yards per game, and last in the league with 17 tackles for losses. It's not likely he will be the only Gamecock to shine on offense, but he could be counted on to get the chains moving early.

Tighten up the defense. South Carolina's defense needs a week to get itself together, and the Wildcats couldn't have come to town at a better time. Kentucky ranks last in the SEC in scoring offense with 21.8 points per game, last in the conference with 17.89 first downs per game, and 12th in rushing production, with 172 yards per game on the ground. There's little to be excited about at all looking up and down the Wildcats' offense, save for the ever-interesting two-quarterback system they run.

As the Gamecocks will probably be playing with the lead, this could be the defenses' last pressure-free learning opportunity before they take the road to face Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. South Carolina will need to use the game to find permanent fixes to problems that have hampered them on defense the past two games, including missing assignments, tackling issues and an inability to put together four quarters solid football.

Protect the quarterback. Shaw deserves credit for bouncing back quickly from injury faster than anyone expected after the UCF game, as well as for deciding to play through the pain Saturday. With that being said, it's probably in his best interest he doesn't sustain the same hits he's taken all season long. Kentucky ranks third in the SEC in sacks per game (2.25) and second in passing defense (175 yards allowed per game), raising the need for the offensive line to protect Shaw in the pocket and for the receivers to get open before he feels the need to scramble.

South Carolina's offensive line, weighing in as the heaviest in the nation's top 25 with an average of 322.4 pounds per man, has played well this season, allowing just four sacks in as many games. If they can continue to give both Shaw and Dylan Thompson time to look scan the entire field, South Carolina will move the chains all day long Saturday.

Keep the defense off the field. South Carolina's defense may need the experience, but the team will benefit the less time they spend on the field. The Gamecocks' 28 unanswered points in both of the past two games have shown how quickly the South Carolina's offense can get into a rhythm when its defense makes quick stops, and that will be the key again Saturday.

South Carolina's odds of forcing those stops against Kentucky look good on paper. The Wildcats own the SEC's third-worst third down conversion percentage, having converted just 1 of their past 21 third-down tries and 11 of their total 47 attempts. On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks have allowed just 22 of their opponents' 57 attempts this season, putting them among the SEC's top five in conversions allowed.

Keep it simple. South Carolina won't need to take a lot of chances to beat Kentucky, a 1-3 team coming off two straight losses. Recent history shows that the Wildcats will beat themselves. Kentucky ranks worst in the SEC in penalty yards per game with 61.3, they've committed more turnovers than they've forced, and they've lost twice to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the past two seasons.

Plainly put, South Carolina has more talent, better coaching and home field advantage Saturday. There's nothing gimmicky the Gamecocks need to do, no special pages in Spurrier's playbook that need to be opened to get the win. If South Carolina plays South Carolina football, it'll be over in the third quarter, regardless of what kind of effort the Wildcats show at Williams-Brice.

GCTV: Kentucky preview with Alyssa Lang and Chris Clark

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