COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Benny Snell Jr. rushed for two touchdowns and Kentucky’s defense held off South Carolina to win its fourth straight over the Gamecocks, 23-13, on Saturday night.
Of more pressing concern than the loss for South Carolina is the status of start receiver/return man Deebo Samuel (Chapman HS), who went down with a leg injury late in the third quarter, returned for one play, but then exited the game for good.
Samuel’s status was clouded by a postgame announcement from head coach Will Muschamp saying his star had a broken leg and was lost for the season but that was later countered on Twitter by Samuel, who says he has a fractured ankle and should be able to return in five to six weeks.
Snell, who’s status was in doubt earlier in the week due to bruised ribs, rushed for scores of 5 and 1 yard in leading the Wildcats (1-0 Southeastern Conference) to their first 3-0 start since 2010. Two years ago, Kentucky snapped a 22-game SEC road losing streak at South Carolina.
This time, the Wildcats left no doubt about who was the better team in this one.
It did not start that way, though.
South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) electrified a sold-out stadium with a 68-yard TD catch by receiver Deebo Samuel on the opening play, then got an interception and a fumble from the Wildcats’ first two drives. But Kentucky’s defense did not allow the Gamecocks any more points after that.
Snell and offense took over with two long, first-half scoring drives for a 14-6 lead. Snell ended a 13-play series with his 5-yard touchdown. He capped an 11-play sequence with his second touchdown.
Kentucky made the critical plays when it needed. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Wildcats 1 in the fourth quarter, Gamecock tailback Rico Dowdle was stopped cold by linebacker Jamar Watson and cornerback Derrick Baity.
Then when the Gamecocks closed it to 20-13 on OrTre Smith’s 9-yard touchdown grab with 6:26 left, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson scrambled on third down for a 54-yard run that led to Austin MacGinnis’ third field goal with two minutes left that sealed the win.
Snell finished with 102 yards on 32 carries.
Samuel had five catches for 122 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season. But he left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.
Kentucky: The Wildcats could be for real in an SEC East without any true powers. They took South Carolina’s opening punch and then won every big moment the rest of the way.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were poised for a Top 25 breakthrough with a victory. Instead, after next week’s contest with Louisiana Tech, they’ll face a difficult stretch of league games including contests at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
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