Updated 2 years ago
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Kentucky coach Joker Phillips updated a few injuries, then got right to the point after his Wildcats lost 54-3 to No. 18 South Carolina on Saturday.
"Ugly is how you can describe it," Phillips said. "It was ugly, especially offensively."
The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) gained just 96 yards and completed just four passes against the Gamecocks. They turned the ball over six times, had just six first downs and ran just six plays in South Carolina territory, all of them after the Gamecocks fumbled the opening kickoff. A 28-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh accounted for all Kentucky's points.
"Today was the worst I've seen us, practice, game or whatever. We have to find a way to get the guys playing better and executing better," wide receivers coach Tee Martin said.
Kentucky ran into a South Carolina team rallying around a new quarterback. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier gave sophomore Connor Shaw the ball over fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia. Spurrier also decided to tinker with his offense as it faced a Wildcats team losing by an average of 33 points and allowing 434 yards a game in their in their first SEC contests.
Spurrier opened up his offense Saturday and whatever he tried worked out. South Carolina gained 639 yards, the most under Spurrier. Shaw finished the game with 311 yards and four touchdowns, going 26 for 39 with no interceptions.
"Their whole offensive scheme was different," Kentucky linebacker Ridge Wilson said. "Everything they ran was different than what we covered in film and what we went over in practice. It's not an excuse, we still have to go out there and play."
Kentucky ran for just 79 yards, and quarterback Morgan Newton led the team with 54 yards on 14 carries. His feet were much more efficient than his arm. The junior was 4 for 21 for 17 yards and threw an interception.
The Wildcats turned to backup quarterback Maxwell Smith in the third quarter. He threw two interceptions his first two passes and nearly had his third pass picked off by blitzing linebacker Damario Jeffery. The Wildcats then went back to Newton, and promptly fumbled three plays later.
Kentucky has now thrown the ball for 248 yards and completed just 33 of 95 passes in three SEC games.
"Our passing game is a lost part of our game. That's one of the things we have done around here really well," Phillips said. "And we have yet to execute a passing game in the last couple of games that's looked like one."
Kentucky has a bye week, then plays Jacksonville State before getting back into the SEC schedule. Phillips said it will be a welcome respite.
"We have a much-needed two-week break that we have to try and figure out some of those answers," Phillips said. "We have to figure out our best personnel. We have to figure out our best schemes and rep them over, over and over again."
Wildcats punter Ryan Tydlacka averaged 44.2 yards on nine kicks, prompting one of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's famous backhanded compliments. "Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that," he said.
Spurrier moved to 17-1 in his career versus Kentucky.
The Gamecocks scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, two of them by backup quarterbacks, including fourth string Dylan Thompson's eight-yard scramble with 9 seconds left that put a Spurrier team over the 50-point mark against an SEC opponent for the first time at South Carolina.
Spurrier's teams at Florida scored 50 points or more over SEC foes 14 times, with five of them coming against the Wildcats.
"We could have picked up 70 or 80 points today," Spurrier said smiling. "But 50 was enough."
Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, doubling his season total for TDs, while Marcus Lattimore ran 22 times for 102 yards for South Carolina.
With four losses in their first six games, the Wildcats are in danger of missing a bowl for the first time in six years. But linebacker Danny Trevathan said there is still time to turn things around.
"It's on us. We have to minimize our mistakes and capitalize on the plays we make. We have to stay together and stay strong," Trevathan said. "The teams that can fight through this stuff are the teams that really deserve to win."