LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Shane Beamer had multiple reasons to savor his first road win in over a year.
Not only did South Carolina provide his initial Southeastern Conference victory away from home, it never trailed while conquering No. 13 Kentucky 24-14 on Saturday night. The way his shorthanded Gamecocks imposed their will over the Wildcats made it even better.
“This was really big for us in so many ways,” said Beamer, whose team had allowed 40-plus points in SEC losses to No. 16 Arkansas and top-ranked Georgia. “We were missing so many guys. Proud of our team. I said take all three phases, and it did.”
Spencer Rattler overcame two early turnovers and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass in the third quarter, Jalen Brooks ran for an insurance score midway through the fourth and South Carolina scored 17 unanswered points for its third consecutive victory.
Kentucky started freshman Kaiya Sheron at quarterback in place of injured senior Will Levis, who wore a protective on his left foot.
MarShawn Lloyd (22 carries, 110 yards) scored a 2-yard touchdown run on the Gamecocks’ first snap, immediately after Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez Jr. fumbled on the opening play. That quickly seized momentum against the Wildcats (3-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference).
South Carolina (4-2, 1-2) moved ahead early in the third quarter, when Rattler (14 of 19, 177 yards) hit Antwane Wells Jr. in the flat and the junior darted past a defender for a 42-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead. Mitch Jeter’s 32-yard field goal later in the period provided a 10-point cushion that Brooks extended to 17 points with a 24-yard TD run with 7:02 remaining.
“First half, we had opportunities to score and didn’t capitalize,” Rattler said. “We locked in and executed and couldn’t be stopped.”
South Carolina won its first road game since topping East Carolina in Beamer’s second game on Sept. 11, 2021.
The Gamecocks also earned their first win over a ranked team since beating No. 15 Auburn at home on Oct. 17, 2020, and first on the road since topping third-ranked Georgia on Oct. 19, 2019. They were coming off consecutive 50-point performances in wins over Charlotte and FCS South Carolina State.
Sheron (15 of 27, 178 yards) tossed a 10-yard TD pass JuTahn McClain with 2:49 left, his second of the game, but the Wildcats fell for the second consecutive week in league play.
Mystery preceded this defeat as Levis entered Kroger Field with a boot on his left foot and did not participate in warmups with teammates. Earlier this week, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops referred to a finger injury Levis sustained in last week’s 22-19 loss to No. 9 Mississippi, but didn’t mention any foot injury and remained mum on the quarterback’s status on Thursday.
Stoops said after the game that Levis has a foot injury and wasn’t sure when he’d be able to return.
“It’s been day to day, and it’s day to day,” the coach said. “So, I can’t tell you how that’s going to respond.”
Disaster quickly followed with Rodriguez’s fumble, a blocked punt and Matt Ruffolo’s missed 45-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright. Sheron regrouped to fake a toss to Rodriguez and hit wide-open Jordan Dingle for the tying touchdown in the second quarter, but Kentucky was held to its lowest output since losing 30-13 to top-ranked Georgia 30-13 last season.
“A first-time starter, in position to be successful, I don’t think our team played with the normal competitive character that our teams generally play with,” Stoops said, referring to Sheron. “That’s obviously the job of the head coach to get the team prepared and put them in the position to be successful.”
BLOCK BY BLOCK
South Carolina rang up another blocked punt when King-Demenian Ford stuffed Colin Goodfellow’s attempt midway through the first quarter. That raised the Gamecocks’ total to a nation-leading five and followed the Gamecocks’ second two-block performance this season against South Carolina State on Sept. 29.
Kentucky’s poll stay is in jeopardy after a second consecutive loss.
South Carolina: Gifted with a turnover on the first snap, the Gamecocks converted but couldn’t reach the end zone until the third quarter. Rattler fumbled on a sack and was intercepted, but found a groove with short passes that turned into big gains. The defense sacked Sheron six times and limited his passing options after the TD to earn a much-needed win.
Kentucky: Offensive falloff was to be expected without Levis, but the Wildcats quickly dug a hole with a first-play fumble and special teams failures. Other than Sheron, the offense stalled. More puzzling were the defensive breakdowns that allowed Rattler to pick them apart, which is not good with red-hot Mississippi State up next.
“At half(time) I felt we had control and was moving the ball,” Sheron said. “I don’t know what happened.”
South Carolina has a bye before hosting Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
Kentucky hosts No. 23 Mississippi State, which routed Arkansas 40-17.