61F Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, KY
While South Carolina's offense continues to run though Marcus Lattimore, quarterback Connor Shaw is proving quite formidable in the pocket.
That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to a Kentucky team he picked apart last year.
Trying to improve to 5-0 for the first time in 11 seasons, the sixth-ranked Gamecocks visit the Wildcats looking to match a school record with their ninth consecutive victory Saturday night.
South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 SEC) has outscored opponents by an average of 21.3 points during an eight-game win streak, its longest since winning a program-record nine straight to begin the 1984 season. The Gamecocks are off to a second consecutive 4-0 start but have not opened with five wins in a row since 2001 under former coach Lou Holtz - also the last time they began conference play 3-0.
They're coming off a third straight lopsided win, having returned to SEC action last Saturday with a 31-10 victory over Missouri.
Lattimore ran for 85 yards and his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season, but it was Shaw who stole the show. The junior threw an incompletion on his first passing attempt but went on to complete his final 20, finishing with a season-high 249 passing yards and two scores.
"I just found a groove and stayed with it," said Shaw, who improved to 11-1 as a starter. "My goal was to come out here and play to the best of my ability. And I think I did."
Shaw suffered a hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder in a season-opening win over Vanderbilt and played just two quarters over the next two games - wins over East Carolina and UAB by a combined 97-16 score. He played a full game last week and didn't appear hindered by the injury.
"He just does the same thing every time he goes out there," said Lattimore, tied for second in the SEC with 69 rushing attempts. "He is our leader. He is consistent. He stays in the pocket when he has to, and he runs when he has to. He is a complete quarterback."
Shaw gave the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) fits during a 54-3 rout last Oct. 8, throwing for a career-high 311 yards and four touchdowns. Lattimore added 102 yards on the ground as South Carolina improved to 11-1 over its last 12 matchups in this series.
The Gamecocks' only loss over that stretch came during their last visit to Lexington, 31-28 on Oct. 16, 2010, despite Lattimore's 212 yards from scrimmage.
"That game's history, just as our game with them last year is history, and the team that plays the best this week has the best chance of being the winner," coach Steve Spurrier said. "I think we are better than them. But if we don't play better than them, they can certainly beat us."
Another upset seems unlikely given Kentucky's recent woes. The Wildcats have allowed averages of 29.0 points and 400.3 yards from scrimmage to rank 13th and 12th, respectively, in the conference.
They also failed to get much going offensively without injured quarterback Maxwell Smith (shoulder) during last Saturday's 38-0 loss at then-No. 14 Florida.
Smith expects to face South Carolina after throwing Tuesday and practicing handoffs Wednesday, saying his shoulder is "doing pretty good."
With Smith sidelined last week, Morgan Newton and Jalen Whitlow combined to complete 8 of 27 passes for 60 yards, with Newton throwing three interceptions.
"I think Morgan was throwing it to the right person; we just weren't very accurate," coach Joker Phillips said. "Again, for us to be successful in this offense, you have to be able to throw and catch, and we weren't able to do that."
Kentucky, which fell 32-14 at then-No. 25 Louisville in its season opener, has dropped seven straight matchups versus ranked foes by an average of 27.0 points since beating then-No. 10 South Carolina two seasons ago.
Center Matt Smith knows the Wildcats are likely to have their hands full again come Saturday.
"It's going to be a huge challenge this week, just like any other game for the rest of the season," he said. "South Carolina is one of those teams that has always been a tough challenge for us... We are looking forward to it."