It’s hard to call a Week 4 matchup must-win, but South Carolina’s bowl aspirations may teeter on Saturday’s tilt with Kentucky.
With a brutal close to its schedule that includes four teams currently in the Associated Press Top 25 and a handful of winnable games before that, USC could spare itself having to steal a win down the road if the Gamecocks can hold serve against the Wildcats at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Here are three x-factors for USC this weekend when UK comes to town:
QB Luke Doty
We’ve written about quarterback Luke Doty ad naseum over the past week, but it’s hard to overstate his importance to the South Carolina offense.
Zeb Noland performed admirably in his two-week stint as USC’s starter, but the dynamic dual-threat ability that Doty brings adds a different layer to the unit.
Offenisve coordinator Marcus Satterfield quipped Wednesday he called for a zone read with Noland at quarterback on the first play against Georgia to show they’d still run it without Doty. The lane cleared. Noland ran. South Carolina still ended up with 2nd and 9.
Point being, Doty’s legs can bring a game-changing type pace to the offense. He also flashed a rocket arm when he connected with Josh Vann (more on him in a bit) for a 36-yard score and the first touchdown Georgia surrendered this year.
The offense doesn’t fall entirely on Doty — South Carolina’s running backs also need to find some way to get going — but if he can get into a rhythm early, it’ll bode well for a South Carolina team that could really use a win Saturday.
CB Cam Smith
Now this note comes with a caveat. Smith’s foot that he had offseason surgery on was injured again against Georgia when it was stepped on. Shane Beamer has said the expectation is he can go, but that remains TBD.
That said, if Smith is healthy, he’ll likely be responsible for Kentucky receiver Wan’dale Robinson.
Robinson has been one of the biggest breakout stars of the early season having gone over 100 yards in every game he’s played this year. He also ranks second in the league in receiving yards per game (112.3)and sixth in receptions per game (6).
South Carolina’s back end has been largely OK despite preseason prognostications to the contrary.
Smith entered the season as USC’s presumed No. 1 cornerback after Kansas transfer Karon Prunty departed the program less than a month and a half into his tenure. If the Gamecocks hope to slow Robinson, Smith will have to get physical and keep Robinson in front of him as best he can.
You could also see plenty of nickel coverage from defensive coordinator Clayton White to give the Gamecocks an extra defensive back against Robinson and strong-armed signal-caller Will Levis.
WR Josh Vann
Three games is a small sample size, but Vann has been flat-out spectacular over his first couple contests under Beamer and Satterfield.
The former four-star recruit has already surpassed his season-highs in receiving yardage and is currently fourth in the SEC with an average of 94 yards per game.
Vann looked the part of his recruiting pedigree last Saturday in Athens when he torched the Bulldogs secondary for 128 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Perhaps as impressive, he’s averaging over 28 yards per catch on his 10 receptions this fall.
I mentioned it up top, but Doty is still finding a groove as he gets back to full speed and re-adjusts to the speed of the game. If Vann can continue to prove the home run hitting dynamism he’s displayed so far alongside a receiving corps that also includes Dakereon Joyner and Jalen Brooks, South Carolina could find themselves a competent offense sooner than later.