COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Benny Snell Jr. rushed for two touchdowns and Kentucky's defense held off South Carolina to win its fourth straight over the Gamecocks, 23-13, on Saturday night.
Snell, who's status was in doubt earlier in the week due to bruised ribs, rushed for scores of 5 and 1 yard in leading the Wildcats (1-0 Southeastern Conference) to their first 3-0 start since 2010. Two years ago, Kentucky snapped a 22-game SEC road losing streak at South Carolina.
This time, the Wildcats left no doubt about who was the better team in this one.
It did not start that way, though.
South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) electrified a sold-out stadium with a 68-yard TD catch by receiver Deebo Samuel on the opening play, then got an interception and a fumble from the Wildcats' first two drives. But Kentucky's defense held the Gamecocks to one touchdown after that.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was proud of his players for absorbing South Carolina fast start and punching back. "Everybody wants to panic because you got to look pretty all the time," he said. "Winning is what matters."
Snell and offense took over with two long, first-half scoring drives for a 14-6 lead. Snell ended a 13-play series with his 5-yard touchdown. He capped an 11-play sequence with his second touchdown.
"This says we've got a little bit of dog in us, I guess," quarterback Stephen Johnson said. "Everybody wants to do well on this team. We know what we can do."
Kentucky made the critical plays when it needed. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Wildcats 1 in the fourth quarter, Gamecock tailback Rico Dowdle was stopped cold by linebacker Jamar Watson and cornerback Derrick Baity.
Then when the Gamecocks closed it to 20-13 on OrTre Smith's 9-yard touchdown grab with 6:26 left, Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson scrambled on third down for a 54-yard run that led to Austin MacGinnis' third field goal with two minutes left that sealed the win.
Snell finished with 102 yards on 32 carries.
Samuel had five catches for 122 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season. But he left the game in the third quarter with a broken leg and Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said he'll miss the rest of the season.
"He's an outstanding teammate and an outstanding friend," Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. "He'll be hard to replace."
Kentucky: The Wildcats could be for real in an SEC East without any true powers. They took South Carolina's opening punch and then won every big moment the rest of the way.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were poised for a Top 25 breakthrough with a victory. Instead, after next week's contest with Louisiana Tech, they'll face a difficult stretch of league games including contests at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Kentucky played without starting linebacker Jordan Jones, who was out with a banged up shoulder.
Kentucky returns home to face Florida on Saturday.
South Carolina takes on Louisiana Tech, which is led by former Gamecocks offensive coordinator Skip Holtz, on Saturday.