Inside Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday night, in front of 82,000 raucous fans excited to see the Gamecocks’ SEC home opener, the energy was high both in the stands and on the field.
As I stood on the sidelines watching both teams warm-up and enter the field for 2001, I saw several players extremely fired up and excited for the ensuing kickoff. You could see the confidence in the way they walked; each drill they ran was done so with a little extra emphasis.
Many of these players fed off the energy of the fans, and several times you could find these players getting in the face of the student section and getting the students fired up as well.
Unfortunately, none of these players donned the Garnet and Black.
For a team that had lost 22 road games entering Saturday night’s game, the Kentucky Wildcats sure didn’t show any signs that they were intimidated by the atmosphere inside Williams-Brice.
At one point during warm-ups, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops came running over to the visitor’s sideline next to me where some of the Wildcat contingent had gathered and, with both an air of excitement and calmness, told the group “We’re going to the get them tonight.”
This statement wasn’t just coach speak either—I could tell that the fans Stoops had just spoken to actually believed him. Heck, I believed him, too.
Stoops’ confidence has clearly become infectious in the Wildcat’s locker room and taken a hold of this team that has silently been on the rise since Stoops became head coach three years ago.
Over on the Gamecock sideline, things are quite different. The backups shuffle up and down as they follow the action on the field. The coaches occasionally yell and do their best to pump up the team while a large majority of the starters silently watch the scoreboard from the bench, or stare off into nothing.
The best way to describe South Carolina’s sideline for the first two games is monotonous. The spark that players like D.J. Swearinger and Vic Hampton brought to the team in previous years is clearly gone, and has been replaced by the 1,000-yard stares of Brandon Wilds and Connor Mitch.
I’ve yet to see a Gamecock football player look to be having as much fun playing the game of football this season as UK running back JoJo Kemp showed as he danced his way off the field following the game.
It’s this simple—Kentucky won Saturday night because they believed they would. They showed up from the very start excited for the chance to show those in attendance and everyone watching across the nation that they are a different team than years past.
The Gamecocks could sure use a little bit of that Wildcat spark going forward.