Alabama travels to the bluegrass state this week to take on the University of Kentucky Wildcat’s at Commonwealth stadium in a 7:00 PM ET matchup. The 5-0 Crimson Tide head to Lexington as 28 point favorites over a struggling 1-4 Wildcat team looking for its first conference win of the season. That win will be a mighty tall order to fill for UK considering the Tide are beginning to come together as a team and improving each week. Kentucky’s new head man Mark Stoops is finding that life in the SEC is tough, especially during a transition period with new coaches and schemes and his players aren’t helping things with their predictions about the game. One of the Wildcats has guaranteed that they’ll score this week vs the Crimson Tide and provided a little extra bulletin board material and motivation for the Bama defense…..Bo wallace can attest to this being a bad idea.
The Crimson Tide running game has begun to take shape recently following some inconsistencies to begin the season and they will be looking to get Yeldon and Drake more involved than in previous weeks. Alabama is averaging 166 yards per game and by Alabama standards that certainly isn’t where they want to be as an offense. Kentucky’s defense is giving up 196 yards rushing this season so the Tide will be looking to establish that run game early on in this one and feast off of play action passing all evening. Yeldon and Drake were long suspected to lock down the top two running back positions for Alabama but we didn’t see them getting quite this deep into the schedule before hitting their stride. Some of that has to do with the new offensive line starters and some of it is simply the backs adjusting to their new roles. At any rate, Bama’s run game should begin to come full circle this week and begin to look like the position of strength we are all accustomed to seeing. From here on out, the Tide’s schedule just gets stronger and they MUST have consistent production from the running backs if they are going to make a serious push for that historic 3-peat.
AJ McCarron and the Tide passing attack are clicking pretty well at this point in the season with the exception of the AJ to Cooper connection that has yet to yield any results at all and just like the week before, we all hope to see that situation improve and become a headache for cornerbacks as it was last year. Christion jones leads the receivers averaging over 11 yards per catch followed by Deandrew White averaging an impressive 14 yards per catch. The addition of tight end OJ Howard continues to give McCarron a weapon he isn’t used to having out there with the youngster averaging 17 yards per reception himself when his number is called. The one area that the offensive staff are looking to see improvement in the pass game is the receiving yards from the running backs. Look for all backs including Fowler to be more involved in the pass game than we have seen thus far.
This Alabama defense has come into its own over the last few games, as we wait for the offense to gel, and have made quite a statement in not allowing a touchdown since the Texas A&M game when the media questioned the ability of this years group to live up to the standard set by previous defenses. A little shuffling around and getting he right guys in the right positions has paid big dividends thus far and this game should provide a great chance for those guys to become even more comfortable with one another and with the scheme. CJ Mosely has embraced the leadership role for a defense that was in need of such a player to be a verbal leader and someone who practices what they preach, although it goes against his naturally quiet demeanor. The other Tide defenders respect him as much as they do anyone in the program and they have responded to his message of being accountable and doing things the right way and focusing on team goals rather than worrying about their own individual goals. The most painful absence is safety HaHa Clinton-Dix being gone but in a small sample size game against an overmatched opponent, his replacement Landon Collins seemed comfortable and capable. We will know a little more about how well versed Collins is at free safety in this game with the step up in overall talent from Georgia St to Kentucky but the Tide are still well ahead in terms of experience and depth. Eddie Jackson has been the brightest spot on defense as of late, filling a role that is as important as any role on the entire defense at cornerback and delivering solid performances along with showing improvement steadily.
Kentucky’s offense isn’t going to set the world on fire but they are still littered with talented players, many of which were pursued by the Crimson Tide during their recruitment, so taking them for granted is a mistake. South Carolina got a little lazy after jumping on the Wildcats last week 21-0 only to see that lead disappear in a matter of minutes due to the quick strike ability of UK’s athletes. SCAR wound up on the winning side of last weeks Kentucky game by a score of 35-28 but it was certainly not without a fight and UK head coach Mike Stoops has his guys believing they can not only play with the best in the SEC but that they can beat those teams as well. Kentucky won’t be intimidated by the Tide nor will they roll over so we should all expect to see a team with a point to prove in the UK Wildcats. UK’s run game and pass game are equally effective and they’re actually not far behind the Crimson Tide in both categories. Fortunately for the Tide defense, it all starts with stopping the run and making the offense one dimensional. The Tide D-line has been a rock this season against the run, or a mountain if you will, only allowing 85 rushing yards per contest and the emergence of true freshmen Jonathon Allen and A’Shawn Robinson have been a big part of that success. Allen & Robinson allow the Tide staff to keep a nice rotation going along the D-line throughout the games keeping the starters Stinson and Pagan fresh and more effective, especially against the up-tempo offenses. Both young players have the strength to be stout against the run and the athleticism to provide some pass rush to keep opposing QB’s on their toes.
Alabama’s overall defense has come together nicely over the last three games and, providing they stay healthy, there is no reason to believe this group won’t continue on the current curve and become one of the more feared defenses in the SEC and nation. Defensive back is the weakest link in the armour and since HaHa’s suspension and the promotion of Eddie Jackson to starting corner, this group hasn’t really been tested by a capable offense yet and this game will be a great opportunity for those guys to learn and grow. The Tide offense is not without quite a few unanswered questions, most of which include issues of consistency and execution, not talent. Bama’s offense has the talent to be far better as a group than the numbers reflect and they have a long way to go in order to reach their potential. One week the pass game is on point yet the run game seems a little flat and the following week the running backs wake up and have much better games while the pass game struggles. Establishing the run early in this game and gaining control of the tempo and flow of this game will be the Tide’s first objective. Saban wants to see the O-line establish themselves and bend the defensive line to their will consistently until the final whistle. The running backs should have a big day and open things up for the passing game to have their way with the defense.
Prediction: Alabama 41 Kentucky 10