LEXINGTON — Kentucky senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed admits knowing so little about quarterback Conner Shaw will complicate UK’s preparation for Saturday’s game at South Carolina.
“Any time we don’t have a lot of film on a player it kind of leaves us in the gray area about him,” said Sneed. “We might not know as much as we like to, but we have to prepare just the same. I am sure we will still prepare for (Stephen) Garcia because you never know what is going to happen. We just have to be ready for anybody.”
“They're going to do what they do. It's different than going from the two quarterbacks we saw last week (at LSU), going back to the athletic guy. I think these two guys (South Carolina quarterbacks) are similar. He (Spurrier) always goes from a drop-back passer to a drop-back passer. His system or play calling doesn't change,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.
No matter who the quarterback is, South Carolina still has two of the Southeastern Conference’s premier players in running back Marcus Latimore (677 yards and nine touchdowns) and receiver Alshon Jeffery (19 catches for 332 yards and two scores).
“Lattimore is a great back, one of the best in the SEC. The defense has to have a very good week of practice and be prepared to tackle a great back. He has good balance, speed and strength. We are sort of looking forward to it because we like the challenge,” Sneed said. “We have experienced speed backs (with Florida) and power backs last week (with LSU). This guy is a little bit of a mix in everything. We just have to play against the best again.”
Phillips said he thinks Lattimore should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
“I hope they shake it up and don't turn it over to 21 (Lattimore). That's the shaking up I'd like to see done,” Phillips said.
Despite last week’s loss to Auburn, South Carolina is still rushing for 197 yards per game and averaging 31.8 points per outing.
Sneed knows Jeffery presents problems for Kentucky’s secondary as well.
“They are balanced with the pass and run. We have to have a very good week of preparation, watch a lot of film and just be efficient in every aspect of the game because they can throw the football or run the football. Lattimore and Jeffery are both really good,” Sneed said.
“I think these guys (South Carolina) are a little bit faster than the group we just saw, and just as physical, especially the running back position. I think he's (Lattimore) probably a little faster than the backs we saw last week and just as physical,” Phillips said. “Last week (LSU) didn't try to get the perimeter as much in the run game as this group will try to get him on the perimeter. They'll also try to run downhill on you.”
Defensively, South Carolina could pose huge problems for Kentucky’s anemic offense that ranks 118th out of 120 teams nationally.
South Carolina is tops in the SEC in pass defense and sacks. Melvin Ingram has 5.5 sacks, tops in the SEC, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He’s also scored on a 68-yard run on a fake punt. His backup, freshman Jadeveon Clowney, has four sacks and would start if Ingram does not.
Phillips says Clowney’s athletic ability impresses him as much as Ingram’s ability.
“The running back tries to go cut him, he hurdles him. Gets his feet down on the ground faster than anybody I've ever seen. Goes and causes a fumble. He's just so long. He's athletic. He's a powerful guy,” Phillips said. “You see Ingram all over the place. He's (running fake) punts. I think he has two or three touchdowns. Just a guy that's athletic. There's been even mention of them putting him at tailback. That tells you what type of athlete he is. He has played inside which tells you how powerful he is. Now he's playing on the outside which tells you how athletic he is.”
Spurrier said Tuesday that Ingram might not play because of a foot injury and will not practice this week.
“He thinks he can play,” Spurrier said. “Now whether or not the trainers and doctors clear him, we’ll just have to wait and see. But he’s got his foot in one of those boots right now, so he’s definitely not going to practice.”
Kentucky failed to pick up a first down on eight of 14 possessions in last week’s loss at LSU. Phillips benched starting quarterback Morgan Newton to start the second half and has not said yet whether Newton or backup Maxwell Smith will start at South Carolina. He’s also indicated another true freshman, Bookie Cobbins, will get a look at quarterback and receiver this week.
“We've given up 21 sacks. You try to dissect those plays, try to find out how we're getting sacked so much. A lot of those sacks have been his (Newton) holding the ball too long. A lot of it gets put on the offensive line. It's not always the line. Sometimes it's the back. Sometimes it's just the line. Sometimes it's just the wide receivers. Sometimes it's the quarterback,” Phillips said.
Kentucky upset then No. 10 South Carolina 31-28 last year to end a 10-game losing streak to the Gamecocks. It was also UK’s first win ever against Spurrier.
“We know they will not have forgot last year,” Sneed said. “That just motivates us more. They are going to be angry about losing last week and losing last year to us both. But we are tired of losing, too. We’ve not lost confidence. We still know we can be a good team. We just need to go show it.”