The Kentucky game is coming up this weekend, and if you’re honest with yourself, you really don’t care that much. Sure, you hope we win. But we all know the question of this game isn’t whether we’ll win, but how much we’ll win by. And that’s usually what happens when we play the Wildcats. With the exception of the Tim Couch years in Lexington, it seems like Kentucky is always battling with Vanderbilt for the distinction of SEC East cellar-dweller.
Carolina lost to the Wildcats twice during its disastrous 0-21 run in 1998 and 1999 and was defeated in Lexington in 2010 the week after stunning top-ranked Alabama. Those are the only losses suffered at the hands of Kentucky since the SEC era began in 1992. Not that there haven’t been close games during that time. But Kentucky never seems like a team that South Carolina is particularly concerned with.
That’s what made the 2007 matchup between these programs so different than any before or since. 2007 was a banner year for Kentucky’s program. They’d ended the previous year on a high note, defeating Clemson in the Music City Bowl, but entered the season unranked. Quarterback Andre Woodson was considered a Heisman Trophy contender, setting the NCAA record for pass attempts without an interception at 325 during the season. The team caught the nation’s attention after a Week 3 win over in-state rival Louisville, ranked #9 at the time. Three weeks later, they came to Columbia with a lofty #8 national ranking for a highly-anticipated Thursday night showdown against the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (yes, Kentucky was ranked higher than USC). Gamecock fans were confident; it was, after all, just Kentucky. But beneath the confidence was tepid uneasiness; these guys weren’t your daddy’s Wildcats.
Carolina got the ball first and found freshman tight end Weslye Saunders, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, on a crossing route where he broke free for what should have been a long touchdown. But the ball was punched out from his grasp just before he crossed the goal line, and Kentucky took over at their own 20-yard line after the touchback. Two plays later, enter Eric Norwood.
Woodson performed well during most of the first half, but made a crucial momentum-swinging mistake midway through the second quarter. This play deflated the Wildcats and they never seemed able to get their potent offense rolling smoothly again. Remember that streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception? It was broken the week before this game, but his penchant for avoiding trouble made this play all the more impressive. Casper Brinkley’s pressure caused Woodson to throw off his back foot, and current Carolina Panther Captain Munnerlyn did the rest.
Just before the half, Carolina went on a long scoring drive to take the lead.
On Kentucky’s first drive in the second half, Woodson made another crucial mistake. He tried to dump a pass into the flat to avoid a sack by Brinkley, but actually threw the ball behind him–a fumble by rule. An alert Norwood scooped up the loose ball and tied and NCAA record with two fumble recoveries for touchdowns in the same game.
Patrick DiMarco, the nephew of PGA Tour golfer Chris DiMarco and a freshman fullback at the time, made a crucial diving play to extend Carolina’s lead.
Running back Cory Boyd put the final icing on the cake with this scoring reception.
Carolina’s 38-23 win was its signature victory of the 2007 campaign. It’s impossible to overstate how big this game was. In all my years as a Carolina fan, it was the first game I ever experienced where I didn’t sit down once. Yes, the old people around me in the south end zone stood the entire game. To that point, it was also the loudest game I’d ever been to–you can even hear a slight distortion in the sound quality during the videos of Munnerlyn’s interception and DiMarco’s touchdown from the amount of crowd noise. This is one of the games that helped Williams-Brice earn its reputation as one of the wildest, rowdiest, most intimidating places in America to watch a college football game.
Not too bad for a Kentucky game, huh?