Connor Shaw passed for a touchdown and ran for another as No. 13 South Carolina, playing without injured defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, held off a Kentucky comeback for a 35-28 victory Saturday night.
The Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) again won after letting a large lead slip away. The Wildcats (1-4, 0-2) rallied from 21-0 to pull to 27-21 on Jalen Whitlow's 14-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Timmons with 11:50 remaining.
They were still within a touchdown after Whitlow bulled his way to a 1-yard scoring run with four minutes left. But the Gamecocks ran out the clock behind SEC leading rusher Mike Davis and beat Kentucky for the 13th time in the last 14 meetings.
Clowney was out with bruised ribs.
It was South Carolina's 14th straight home victory, the third-longest active streak behind Michigan and Georgia. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier improved his career mark to 20-1 against the Wildcats. No other active coach has posted 20 victories against one team.
And this one didn't come easy, although the Gamecocks might be used to the script by now.
Two games ago, South Carolina led Vanderbilt 28-0 before the Commodores closed to 35-25. Last week, the Gamecocks were up 28-10 at UCF when the Knights posted two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and South Carolina needed to field an onside kick with under two minutes left to close out a 28-25 win.
This time, the Gamecocks were up 21-0 on Shaw's 62-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd and two scoring runs by Mike Davis. The Wildcats' comeback took flight after halftime when Demarco Robinson scored on 4-yard pass.
Bruce Ellington fumbled the next kickoff and the Wildcats cashed in on the turnover with Whitlow's pass to Timmons.
The Gameoccks gave themselves some breathing room the next sequence when Shaw scored from 2 yards out and completed a pass to Nick Jones for a two-point play to go up 35-21.
Kentucky, though, wasn't done as Whitlow completed passes of 22 yards to Jordan Aumiller for 22 yards and Javess Blue for 33 yards to the Gamecocks 2. Whitlow tightened things up one last time with his touchdown run with 4:02 to go.
Shamir Jeffery, the younger brother of ex-Gamecocks star Alshon Jeffery, fielded the ensuing onside kick and Davis and Shaw were able to run out the clock.
Clowney most likely would've helped put the game away earlier. The 6-foot-6, 274-pound All-American was announced to the sold-out stadium as a starter, yet came out in street clothes and watched from the sidelines.
He had previously dealt with flu bugs, viruses, dehydration and bone spurs. Clowney missed practice Thursday and told Spurrier right before the game he couldn't run and was too hurt to play.
Not that Clowney's absence made much difference to the Wildcats early on as they struggled to gain yards against the Gamecocks. Kentucky managed only 34 yards in the opening quarter and Shaw made them pay.
South Carolina's senior quarterback, who was expected to miss up to three weeks after landing hard on his shoulder last week at UCF, was healthy and on target from the start.
Shaw completed 17 of 20 passes for 262 yards. He also rushed for 50 yards.
Shaw had passes of 14 yards to Nick Jones and 23 yards to Davis on the team's second scoring drive, which ended with Davis barely touched on his 22-yard TD run.
Shaw had a 29-yard throw to Jerell Adams and a 12 yard pass to Byrd on the following drive to set up a third touchdown on Davis' 1 yard run.
Kentucky's second quarter didn't go much better than its first, although it did score on Raymond Sanders 2-yard run. The Wildcats were outgained 297 yards to 100 as Shaw completed 13 of 16 passes in the first 30 minutes.
The Associated Press