COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Finally, the Gamecocks have come back home.
After picking up two wins away from the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina will have the chance to go 3-0 for the first time since 2012 in front of their fans at home when they face Kentucky.
"I'm really excited," said Gamecocks running back A.J. Turner. "It's been a while. It's our first game there and it's a night game. You know, we have the best fans in the country. We're ready to go out there and show them what we've got."
"Regardless of our record, our fans will be ready to go," Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. "I do know that. They'll be excited, and I know our players will be excited to play for them, so I'm happy to be where we are. At the end of the day, that's not going to change the outcome on Saturday night and what happens there; we've got to go play well."
USC is looking to end a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats. In fact, Carolina's senior class has not beaten Kentucky since arriving in Columbia. That's something the team has discussed throughout the week.
"For our seniors, that's been a big deal for us," said Gamecocks sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. "That's really who I'm preparing for this week for our seniors -- to give them that win that they deserve."
Under Jake Bentley, the Gamecocks have won four straight contests under the Carolina sky at Williams-Brice Stadium. While the energy from the fans will be high, the Gamecocks will have to harness that energy early in order to have success.
"Our guys will be excited, but you lean on the experience that you have in the room," said Muschamp. "We've got a lot of experience in the room that our players, especially young players, will listen to. Channeling better as you focus in on the game is probably something that I will address before game time."
One of the main things Carolina will look to do is stop the Kentucky run game. In each of their last three losses to Kentucky, the Wildcats logged more than 200 yards rushing with at least one tailback going over 100 yards in the contests. The Gamecocks will have the tough task of stopping sophomore running back Benny Snell, who has rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown in two games, and junior Sihiem King.
"Benny Snell is an outstanding back," Muschamp said. "Tough, hard-nosed, runs north and south, gets positive yards, rarely takes negative plays. Sihiem King is a guy who's a change-of-pace guy, somewhat like they had last year with some other guys. He's done a really nice job."
Kentucky's passing attack is led by quarterback Stephen Johnson. The senior has thrown for 400 yards and two touchdowns this season and could be a big factor for the Wildcats offense.
"Stephen Johnson is a guy that I think has really been a calming factor for their team," Muschamp noted. "They went with him last year. He creates some things with his legs and throws the ball well. He commands their offense extremely well."
The Gamecocks will line up against an offense that is averaging 25.5 after contests against Southern Mississippi and Eastern Kentucky. Carolina's defense has given up an average of 20.5 points per game. However, USC will hope to force a few turnovers against a Kentucky team that has only had one giveaway this year.
"The number one core value of our football team as far as the game of football is taking care of the ball offensively as a ball carrier and getting the ball off of people on defense," Muschamp said. "It's something we talk about every single day. You can't talk about it enough. We do drill work with it as far as ball security is concerned. We do drill work defensively to get the ball off people and to identify what we call 'violators' – guys who put the ball in jeopardy. That's something we talk about all the time – the momentum it creates for your football team, the field position it creates for your football team. It's the most important thing."
South Carolina will host Kentucky for their home opener Saturday at 7:30 p.m.