Mark Stoops notches first road win as Kentucky survives South Carolina rally

Patrick Towles helped Mark Stoops snap a 10-game road losing skid as Kentucky coach. AP Photo/John Bazemore

Kentucky took another major step under Mark Stoops on Saturday, beating South Carolina 26-22 to notch the third-year head coach’s first road victory.

Stoops’ Wildcats controlled the game early, rolling up 307 yards in the first half as they built a 24-7 lead by intermission. Although the Gamecocks lost quarterback Connor Mitch to a shoulder injury just before halftime, they rallied behind backup Perry Orth in the second half. However, freshman cornerback Chris Westry picked off an Orth pass late in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats’ offense managed to run out the clock to escape with a win.

What the win means for Kentucky: There had been signs of progress under Stoops, but Kentucky had not been able to get the job done on the road. Stoops had lost all 10 games away from Commonwealth Stadium before Saturday, and the Wildcats had lost 18 straight road games overall. Much like after last week’s win against Louisiana-Lafayette, Stoops is probably scratching his head over his team’s struggles to put away wins. But the Wildcats still survived both comeback attempts to improve to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in SEC play.

What the loss means for South Carolina: Nobody wants to lose a conference game, but there were a couple of positive developments as the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) rallied. Orth had a solid second half and finished 13-for-20 for 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Also, new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s group made considerable progress in the second half. The Gamecocks’ defense could not have looked more inept in the first half, but it held Kentucky in check afterward. Kentucky finished with 399 yards of total offense, only 92 of which came in the second half.

Stat of the game: Steve Spurrier has been dominating Kentucky for years, but those days are apparently over after dropping his second straight game against the Wildcats. Spurrier came in with a 20-2 career record against Kentucky -- the most wins by an active coach against any opponent.

The game turned when…: South Carolina had scored 15 unanswered points when Orth hit Jerell Adams with a 33-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter, cutting Kentucky’s advantage to 24-22. However, Pharoh Cooper fumbled as he tried to run for a game-tying two-point conversion and Kentucky’s Denzil Ware picked up the loose ball and ran 98 yards for a score to put the Wildcats up 26-22.