Saturday, October 16, 2004

Holtz: UK tough despite 1-4 record

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Leave it to Lou Holtz to make the Kentucky Wildcats sound like a good team.

The South Carolina coach is well-known for talking up opponents and poor-mouthing his own team's chances. But outside of Holtz and those in the Kentucky locker room, few people expect the Wildcats (1-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) to give South Carolina (4-2, 2-2) much of a challenge when they play tonight at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky has lost three straight games, the last two in embarrassing fashion to Ohio (28-16) and Alabama (45-17). South Carolina was in the Top 25 until suffering a disappointing loss last Saturday to Mississippi.

"It is going to be a difficult game," Holtz insisted. "When we were looking at the film, it was Alabama leading the game 17-14 in the third quarter.

"Despite the score, Kentucky did a good job against Alabama. They are a good team."

Holtz is correct - to an extent. For a time in each of their losses, the Wildcats have been competitive before making critical mistakes in the second half - fumbles, interceptions, a blocked punt, allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown. They lost three fumbles in the second half against Alabama and had five second-half turnovers against Ohio.

"Maybe we'll put the ball in the hands of the guys who aren't fumbling as much," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "We stress ball security every practice. We go through the gauntlet trying to rip the ball out. We discuss it. It's just something we have to continue to work on."

Kentucky has struggled offensively, ranking next to last in the SEC in total offense (292.4 yards a game) and managing only 177 yards against Alabama. That wouldn't seem to bode well against an SC unit that ranks 17th in the nation in total defense, at 282.5 yards a game. Former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter is the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator.

But Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd did shine in last year's game against the Gamecocks. With Kentucky trailing 27-7 entering the fourth quarter, Boyd relieved an injured Jared Lorenzen and led two touchdown drives, pulling Kentucky within 27-21 before the last-ditch rally fell short.

"We couldn't stop him," Holtz said of Boyd.

Boyd won't play the entire game, however. His backup, redshirt freshman Andre Woodson, has seen extended playing time in each of the last two games, a trend Brooks said will continue as Kentucky coaches try to develop Woodson.

Holtz is confident that the Gamecocks already have forgotten about their 31-28 loss to Mississippi, in which the Rebels scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 1:05 left.

"It's Kentucky; that's all I've focused on," said cornerback Fred Bennett, who got beat on Mississippi's winning pass. "As a cornerback, you're going to come across situations like I did last week at the end of the game. It's a tough feeling, but my coaches and teammates have been great."

Despite the loss, South Carolina sophomore quarterback Syvelle Newton - playing in place of senior Dondrial Pinkins, who remains out with a bruised shoulder - put up solid numbers in his first SEC start: 12-of-27 passing for 291 yards and a touchdown and a team-high 65 yards rushing on 19 carries.

Blake Mitchell, the third-string quarterback, will play during the Gamecocks' fourth series, Holtz said, and perhaps at other times as well.

Whomever is playing quarterback, Kentucky's defense has been prone to the big play and ranks last in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense, allowing an average of 413.8 yards and 30.6 points per game.

Against Mississippi, "they ran the ball up and down the field and threw the ball very well," Brooks said of the Gamecocks. "I think this is a very talented team that isn't very happy with their loss last week."

UK vs. South Carolina

Kickoff: 7 p.m. today, Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington.

Records: UK 1-4 (0-2 Southeastern Conference), South Carolina 4-2 (2-2).

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

Series: South Carolina leads 8-6-1.

Line: South Carolina by 13.

What to watch: UK tries to snap a four-game losing streak against the Gamecocks with tonight's Homecoming game. But can the defense stop anyone?

UKTeam statistics SC
292.4Offense avg.387.8

Avg. by rush165.5
160.2Avg. by pass222.3

Defense avg.282.5
218.6Avg. by rush115

Avg. by pass167.5
17.4Avg. pts. for24.3
30.6Avg. pts. against11.7

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