October 5,2013. It’s an easy date for me to remember. October 5th is both my wife’s and my brother’s birthdays. This particular October 5th also represents the last time South Carolina beat Kentucky in football.
I never saw it coming. Back to October 5, 2013. My wife, Brandy, and I were watching the game at Replays sports bar in the now defunct Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. The game was far from a thing of beauty. South Carolina was in the middle of their third 11-2 season. Kentucky, and first year head coach Mark Stoops, would finish the year 2-10 (0-8 SEC). And the game was at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks should have been able to name the score that night. Despite not having Jadeveon Clowney (ribs), South Carolina raced to a quick 21-0 lead before hanging on to survive 35-28. The game felt strange, but hey it’s Kentucky and it’s a victory. Time to celebrate.
We decided to quit munching on stale chicken wings and go downstairs to LB Steakhouse for a victory dinner. While waiting, in the lounge area, for our table, a couple in Kentucky gear walk in. The lady points at my Gamecock golf shirt and starts laughing hysterically. She’s talking about John Calipari, John Wall, Boogie Cousins, Anthony Davis and anything else Wildcat basketball. She then starts ripping the Gamecock basketball program. I finally decide to interrupt, “Excuse me, but don’t you know we played you guys in football tonight? And yes we won. That’s 13 out of 14 for the Gamecocks. We own you!”
Later that same night, I run into that couple at a craps table. She walks straight up to me, grabs my face, and kisses me on the lips. My wife was in the restroom or they might still be fighting. My first reaction was to look at her husband/boyfriend. He was looking straight at the floor. This obviously wasn’t his first rodeo with this crazy woman.
I’m sure there are people reading this, right now, that think that this whole story is contrived for this column. Trust me, I don’t have the ability to make that craziness up. However, I never understood the importance of that kiss until two days ago. I figured it out. That definitely was not a kiss of passion. It was a Michael Corleone to brother Fredo kiss of death. Through me, she gave the Gamecock football program the kiss of death. At least in regards to playing Kentucky in football.
Every year before 2014 was simple to me and I’m sure a lot of other members of the Gamecock nation. Pencil Vanderbilt and Kentucky as sure fire victories. Now “we” only have to find two more conference victories and it’s at least a .500 conference record. From 2000 thru 2013, that formula worked every year except 2007, 2008, and 2010. Two of those three losses were to the Commodores. Kentucky was the easiest part.
The current Kentucky winning streak over the Gamecocks began on October 4, 2014. That Gamecock team was hard to figure. QB Dylan Thompson broke many Gamecock season passing records. The offense was prolific but Thompson seemed to panic in late game situations of tight contests. This was one of those nights. Running back Mike Davis was amazing. He had 183 yards and three touchdowns. His 26 yard burst put the Cocks up 38-24 with 11:45 to go. Business as usual. It’s Kentucky. Let’s chalk up victory 14 out of 15. But as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend.” Kentucky had a star running back that night too. Jojo Kemp would score twice (3 overall) in the fourth quarter and knotted things at 38. Not great but not the end of the world either. Carolina got the ball back with roughly 2 1/2 minutes to go. Either win in regulation or go to overtime. Second play of drive, Thompson throws a pick six and Carolina loses 45-38. It was one of three (Tennessee, Missouri) games in 2014 where the Gamecocks would blow a two touchdown lead in the 4th quarter and lose.
The 2014 game felt like an aberration. Surely things would return to the norm at Willie B in 2015. After opening the season with a neutral field victory over North Carolina, Kentucky was coming to Columbia for the home opener at night. This would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Easy pickings for the Gamecocks right? Nope. Kentucky would break a 22 game road losing streak, put Carolina signal caller Connor Mitch in the hospital and win the game 26-22. The difference was a two point conversion attempt by the Gamecocks that was fumbled and returned 98 yards by Kentucky’s Denzil Ware that scored two points for the boys in blue.
There have been another three Kentucky victories since 2015. The two in Kentucky were actually fairly predictable. In 2016, true freshman QB Brandon McIlwain was in over his head and this game would lead to the removing of Jake Bentley’s freshman redshirt. In 2018, Kentucky was clearly a superior team to South Carolina.
However, 2017 was a shocker. The Gamecocks started the season with two impressive victories. A neutral field defeat of the N.C. State Wolfpack and a road thumping of the Missouri Tigers. Another home opener, at night, against Kentucky. Furthermore, Bentley would hit star receiver Deebo Samuel for a 68-yard touchdown thirteen seconds into the contest. I remember sitting in the stands thinking, “We aren’t just going to win. We’re going to blow them out.” Samuel was playing at a Heisman Trophy level. It was his sixth touchdown in two games-thirteen seconds. However, he would break his leg in the 3rd quarter and Kentucky would win 23-13.
All of this brings us to the game Saturday night against Kentucky in Columbia. The Gamecocks are reeling at 1-3. They don’t appear to have any offensive identity. The defense isn’t any better. Simple tackling is a lost art in the Carolina secondary. This game could very easily determine if Will Muschamp has a future in Columbia. Lose this game and go 1-4 with a trip to Athens on the horizon, and the fan base will flee like roaches when the lights come on. The oddsmakers have made the Gamecocks a slight favorite. It’s another night home game. Those were formerly powerful words that have lost some luster.
For Will Muschamp and the football program’s future, let’s hope this spell that that woman put on me in 2013 isn’t real. Tunica is about 600 miles away, the place we were at doesn’t even exist anymore and those people were probably visiting anyway. I’ll never find that woman to break the spell. If Carolina loses Saturday, I might actually start believing this nonsense.
Trey Gunnells is a special reporter for The Rundown.