LEXINGTON — Much has been made of the passing prowess of South Carolina quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and the immense talents of the Gamecocks’ Heisman Trophy hopeful, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
But it’s likely that sophomore running back Mike Davis will be the biggest concern for the Kentucky Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 in Southeastern Conference play) when UK and USC hook up in a conference battle Saturday night (7:30 on Fox South) in Columbia, S.C.
Davis, a 5-foot-9, 215-pounder, leads the SEC in rushing with 127 yards per game.
Davis gained 167 yards on 26 carries to lead the 15th-rated Gamecocks (3-1 overall, 1-1 in SEC) to a come-from-behind, 28-25 win at Central Florida last Saturday.
“I really like him,” UK coach Mark Stoops said of Davis. “I remember him out of high school, and he’s a really good player. He’s got great balance and great strength. Some people don’t think he’s flashy or whatever, but he’s constantly getting positive yards.”
It’s less certain who will be generating positive yardage at quarterback for South Carolina.
Shaw, a senior, came into the year as the starter, but he suffered a sprained right shoulder early in the Central Florida game.
Thompson, a junior, came on to lead USC to the second-half comeback, completing 15 of 32 passes for 261 yards and one interception.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday Shaw is good to go for Kentucky, but we’ll see.
Both Shaw and Thompson are capable passers, but they haven’t had a lot to throw to thus far. Senior Bruce Ellington is USC’s leading receiver, but he rates only 14th in the SEC with 14 catches, for 57 yards per game.
Defensively, South Carolina is allowing 25.2 points per game, mostly through the air.
Sophomore linebacker Kaiwan Lewis leads the Gamecocks in tackles with 22. Sophomore safety T.J.
Gurley and sophomore linebacker Marcquis Roberts add 21 tackles each.
The 6-6, 274-pound Clowney has been a marked man by the opposition and has just 12 tackles.
“I don’t know if Jadeveon has the stats he had a year ago, but he gets an awful lot of attention, and he deserves it,” Stoops said of Clowney. “If you don’t know where he’s at and pay attention to him with doubles and slides and things like that, you can be hurt in a hurry.”
The biggest question in the Kentucky camp this week has been the race at quarterback. Sophomores Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow have battled for the top spot since the start of pre-season practice, though neither guy has been very effective since.
Stoops said Tuesday one guy has taken the mot of the reps in practice this week, but he would not say who.
The Wildcats rank 11th in the SEC on total offense and eighth in defense.
UK does not have a running back in SEC’s top 15, while juco transfer Javess Blue is 11th in conference play in pass receptions with 4.5 per game.
Franklin County High graduate Ryan Timmons, a UK freshman, has caught 15 passes — second on the team — for 173 yards, and has gained 88 yards rushing on eight carries.
Senior linebacker Avery Williams leads the SEC in tackles with 10.5 per game.
The Wildcats return home Oct. 12 to host No. 1-ranked Alabama at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.