LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky couldn't finish against No. 6 South Carolina as well it started.
After forging a 10-point halftime lead with freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow relieving an injured Maxwell Smith, it disappeared in the second half of a 38-17 loss on Saturday night as the Wildcats allowed 31 unanswered points to the Gamecocks.
"We didn't finish the end of the first half very well offensively," coach Joker Phillips said. "Then, we didn't finish in the second half."
The rushing game told the story.
After outgaining South Carolina (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) 173-108 in the first half with 93 coming on the ground, Kentucky (1-4, 0-2) could gain little after that.
The Wildcats were held to just 70 yards in the second half, and 27 on the ground.
"We were making plays," said tailback Raymond Sanders, who gained 59 yards on 14 carries. "We just need to put a full game together. We feel like we can be a pretty good team."
Besides losing their third straight game, the Wildcats lost Smith to another injury on the game's second play. This time it was his left ankle, injured when his cleats seemed to plant in the turf on Byron Jerideau's low tackle.
Smith will be examined on Sunday.
Smith had just returned from a separated shoulder that sidelined him for last week's loss at Florida. That forced Whitlow into action again, but he seemed more poised this time after a week preparing for the possibility of Smith being out.
And for a while, Whitlow provided hope for a second straight home upset of South Carolina. He got Kentucky a 17-7 lead by leading three scoring drives, running 8 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
In the second half he was sacked four times and intercepted twice.
"I was holding the ball too much," said Whitlow, who finished 12 of 23 for 114 yards. "We got some sacks and interceptions."
Before that South Carolina got little. Coach Steve Spurrier's frustrations were obvious as he walked off the field. But the leaders did all the talking for him in the locker room.
"Our guys really had a good look in their eyes, nobody was pouting," said Spurrier, off to his first 5-0 start as Gamecocks coach. "Maybe we learned something about ourselves as we go forward."
Byrd's touchdown catch seemed to jump-start South Carolina, which went ahead to stay on Miles' TD.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities," Byrd said, "but we were able to take advantage in the second half."
Smith was tackled low by Byron Jerideau. His cleats appeared to be caught in the turf and he immediately grabbed his left ankle, lying on the field for several moments before heading to the bench.
Trainers taped the ankle and he tried to walk on it before heading to the locker room for X-rays.
That again forced Whitlow into an emergency situation but the difference this time was the freshman's weeklong preparation.
It didn't show immediately as he was quickly sacked after replacing Smith, but after the defense twice denied Shaw on two runs at the 1, Whitlow made the work pay off.
Kentucky went 94 yards in 16 plays, helped by Raymond Sanders' 28-yard run and two by Jonathan George for 25 yards. Whitlow, with great protection, chipped in a 20-yard pass to DeMarco Robinson before Sanders got the Wildcats down to the 5 and settled for Craig McIntosh's 22-yard field goal and an early lead.
South Carolina eventually regrouped to lead 7-3 as Shaw led a 64-yard drive helped by his 37-yard pass to a wide-open Ace Sanders, who added a 3-yard touchdown reception two plays later.
Kentucky scored on its next two drives covering 67 and 34 yards, the latter of which was set up by its special teams as Daron Blaylock leaped over the protection to block Tyler Hull's punt that A.J. Legree recovered.
Whitlow's passing and running got the Wildcats a 10-7 lead, connecting with Legree twice for 26 yards followed by two runs covering the final 12, including an 8-yard scoring scramble.
Raymond Sanders' 10-yard run made it 17-7 with 1:52 left in the half.
The Wildcats got another scoring opportunity just before halftime when a snap sailed over Shaw's head and was recovered by Taylor Wyndham at the 10. It failed when Whitlow was stripped of the ball, and despite Kentucky's recovering the ball at the 3, the clock ran out before it could run a play.