COLUMBIA — Everyone from South Carolina’s coaching offices to Las Vegas’ back rooms knows that if Kentucky beats the Gamecocks on Saturday night in Lexington, it would qualify as a monumental upset, one of the biggest in USC’s history.
Sixth-ranked USC is a 21-point favorite. Since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1992, USC has never been a bigger favorite against a league opponent, at home or on the road. The Gamecocks were also favored by 21 when they won 42-6 at Kentucky in 2001.
Yes, USC lost in its last trip to Kentucky, 31-28 in 2010, a week after the Gamecocks upset No. 1 Alabama. But those Wildcats were bound for a 6-6 regular season and their fifth consecutive bowl game appearance. USC, despite being ranked 10th, was just a five-point favorite that day.
Aside from Wofford, Saturday’s game is USC’s last of the season in which a loss would be truly stunning. Kentucky center Matt Smith said a Wildcats victory would “shock the world a little bit.” But even with the Oct. 6 showdown with Georgia looming beyond the Kentucky trip, the Gamecocks are turning to memories of the 2010 loss to sharpen their focus this week.
“It’s been talked about (among the team),” said senior linebacker Quin Smith. “It’s in the past, but we’re taking precautions to make sure that we have our best game when we go down there, like any other SEC team.”
Senior fullback Qua Gilchrist said the older players are trying to “emphasize to young guys that it’s an SEC road game. It’s not about Kentucky. It’s SEC on the road.”
As the Gamecocks aim for their 12th win in 13 years over Kentucky, they probably won’t face a typical SEC road environment on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, whose official capacity is 67,942. Average attendance through two games this year (Kent State and Western Kentucky) is 51,163. Kentucky didn’t draw fewer than 60,000 from 2007-10, but has done it seven times in its past nine home games.
Yet point spreads and crowd sizes barely matter compared to how a team performs.
“I think we are better than them,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “But if we don’t play better than them, they can certainly beat us. Personnel-wise they might be a little below some of the SEC teams, but they are a well-coached bunch. We know that upsets happen, and we know why they happen, usually when a team is not ready to play - simple as that.”
USC was a better team than Kentucky in 2010, when the Gamecocks played for the SEC championship. The Gamecocks led Kentucky 28-10 at halftime. Tailback Marcus Lattimore had 71 rushing yards and 133 receiving yards in the first half, then sprained his ankle on the second half’s second play and didn’t return. Without him, the Gamecocks folded.
“They completely outplayed us the second half, outcoached us completely the second half,” Spurrier said.
Since losing at Kentucky, USC has won 10 straight games against SEC East Division opponents, including Vanderbilt and Missouri this year, though Spurrier somewhat downplayed the significance of those victories.
“We’ve not done that much yet,” he said. “We’ve beaten the teams that we’re supposed to beat.”
Last season, USC beat the Wildcats 54-3 and outgained them 639-96 - USC’s most yards gained and second-fewest allowed under Spurrier, who arrived in 2005.
While USC’s players recall the 2010 loss at Kentucky this week, Smith and the Wildcats have last year’s blowout fresher in their minds.
“It’s something we’re going to remember going into this game,” Smith said.