For one half, No. 17 Kentucky's offense showed the intensity that helped earn its first Top 25 in nearly 11 years. When things sputtered afterward against South Carolina, the Wildcats' defense rose to the challenge with clutch plays to ensure their new-found status ended on a high note.
Their strong start was certainly critical, too.
Benny Snell, Jr. ran for 99 yards and one of Kentucky's three consecutive first-half touchdowns and the Wildcats held on for a 24-10 victory over South Carolina on Saturday night.
Kentucky (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) quashed initial concerns about a letdown following their first ranking since November 2007 by scoring on four straight drives to lead 24-3 at halftime. The Wildcats ended up needing that cushion to offset a scoreless second half and Jake Bentley's 58-yard, third quarter TD pass to Deebo Samuel that kept the Gamecocks (2-2, 1-2) within striking distance.
Mike Edwards' interception with 3:47 remaining snuffed one chance by the Gamecocks before they turned the ball over on downs in the final minute. Those defensive stands sealed Kentucky's fifth consecutive series win and continued its best SEC start since 1977.
The Wildcats registered four turnovers, including interceptions by Derrick Baity, Darius West and Edwards. They scored 10 points off a fumble and interception before West and Edwards picked off Bentley and preserved a second consecutive SEC win by double digits.
And it's still a work in progress.
Snell's rushing yardage on 28 carries also made him the third Wildcat to break 3,000 in a career. His 4-yard score with 4:53 remaining in the second quarter extended his TD record to 40. Quarterback Terry Wilson and A.J. Rose ran for TDs from 1 and 24 yards as Kentucky edged South Carolina 327-321 in yardage.
The Wildcats seemed headed toward a second consecutive SEC rout at the break by dominating the Gamecocks on both sides of the ball. A scoreless second half opened the door for South Carolina, but the defense came up with two timely turnovers to preserve the lead. That was enough to offset the TD that marked the first points they've allowed in the third quarter this season.
Kentucky visits Texas A&M on Saturday in its first SEC meeting with the Aggies.