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October 9, 2009

Five Predictions For USC-Kentucky

The following is an entry from Scott Hood's blog (blog.gamecockcentral.com). Scott has served as a full-time beat writer for GamecockCentral since 2005, covering the South Carolina football, men's basketball and baseball programs.



South Carolina faces SEC East rival Kentucky Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium in a key conference contest. USC has beaten the Wildcats in every meeting since 2000. Will the streak continue? Here are five things we predict will happen in Saturday's game:

1. USC Will Sack The Kentucky QB At Least Five Times: This is the classic irresistible force meets the immovable object situation. USC is third in the SEC with 14 sacks in five games, an average of 2.8 per game. Only Alabama and Ole Miss have a higher single game average. USC didn't record a sack in last week's win over SC State because Ellis Johnson chose to play conservatively. As good as USC has been in getting sacks, Kentucky has been equally effective in protecting the quarterback. The Wildcats allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC last season and have surrendered just five in four games in 2009. But the prediction here is USC's speed off the edges with Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews will prevail. The duo showed the nation against Ole Miss what they're capable of. Kentucky does a good job preventing sacks but there might not be a better tandem than Norwood and Matthews in the SEC right now.

2. Stephen Garcia Will Set A Career High In Single Game Passing Yardage: Garcia's numbers the last three games haven't been overwhelming with an average of 191.3 passing yards per game. But Kentucky will be missing their top two cornerbacks, including the talented Trevard Lindley and will line up a bunch of inexperienced freshmen and sophomore to fill the void. By doing that, they could be playing right into Steve Spurrier's hands. The prediction here is Spurrier will waste no time calling for passes deep down the field and Garcia will enjoy a performance like the one he had against Georgia when he threw for 313 yards while attempting 53 passes. Then, once UK fears the pass, USC will unleash the running backs. But not before Garcia throws for 315+ yards.

3. USC Will Enjoy At Least A Plus-2 Advantage In Turnover Margin: The USC offense has avoided the turnovers that plagued them throughout last season. With the halfway point of the season just four quarters away, Garcia has thrown only two interceptions in 155 pass attempts. The Gamecocks threw 27 picks last season, an average of more than two per game. USC's improved ball security has produced a plus-four rating in turnover margin, the fifth best figure in the SEC. Kentucky, meanwhile, has committed nine turnovers in four games and has a turnover margin of minus-4. Hartline has thrown six interceptions in 113 pass attempts, an average of one pick for every 18.8 passes. If he maintains that average, the Gamecocks should come up with at least two interceptions on Saturday.

4. Spencer Lanning Will Extend His Consecutive Field Goal Streak By Two Or More: Is there a hotter kicker in the country than Lanning, who has made 10 consecutive field goal attempts? His accuracy has tied the Rock Hill, SC native for the highest FG percentage in the SEC with Auburn's Wes Byrum. Of course, Lanning's cause has been helped by the fact USC keeps bogging down in the red zone and settling for field goals. His last four field goals have come from 26, 20, 30 and 30 yards out. At this level, you have to make those kicks. Lanning has tried just one kick longer than 40 yards. So, they haven't been long kicks but he's been accurate. Lanning said this week that he's very comfortable from 55 yards in, so we'll see if he tries one from that distance.

5. USC Will Lead By At Least 10 Points After The First Quarter: Whatever magical words Steve Spurrier has been using at halftime, they're working. The Gamecocks are outscoring opponents by a 57-10 margin in the third quarter. In the first half, USC holds a 63-57 advantage. Kentucky, meanwhile, has been outscored, 45-16, in the first quarter in its first four games. Of course, blame for that large discrepancy goes to Florida, which jumped out to a 31-0 advantage after 15 minutes. I don't expect USC to be that productive in the first quarter unless Kentucky experiences a complete meltdown in its first road test of the year. But I am willing to predict USC will storm out of the locker room, run through the tunnel to '2001' and establish the vertical passing game early, grab a quick lead and cruise to a SEC win against the overmatched Wildcats.

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