STEPHEN’S REPORT: #1 Alabama vs. Kentucky Preview
The place where basketball and horses truly run wild (Lexington, Kentucky) will play the role of host this Saturday as the Alabama Crimson Tide heads to Commonwealth Stadium (C.M. Newton Field) to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. The game will be brought to fans via ESPN 2 at 7:00 EST.
For Alabama, last week was the first non-conference matchup in which fans saw the Tide dominate in all phases of the game. Offensively, the Crimson Tide ran the ball well and the offensive line did a great job of moving Georgia State’s defense off the ball. Alabama rushed for 181 yards (Yeldon 51—Henry 50) and amassed 477 yards of offense. It didn’t just stop with the run game, the offense line did a tremendous job pass blocking for AJ McCarron as well.
McCarron had an NFL fantasy game and was near flawless in completion percentage. He was 15-16 (93.7 percent of passes completed) passing for 166 yards and four touchdowns (10 touchdowns on the season). If that wasn’t enough for fans, Blake Sims saw more than the fourth quarter and showed the Alabama faithful that he can pass the ball. Sims went 14-18 (77.8 percent of passes completed) passing for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Despite Alabama’s defense not pitching its second shutout, they still played well against the Panthers. The Crimson Tide held Georgia State to nine first downs, four third down conversions, 175 yards of offense and 15 yards rushing.
As for Kentucky, this is a statement game for head coach Mark Stoops. After a heart-breaking 35-28 loss to South Carolina last week, the Wildcats are hungry and will come home to a spirited crowd of white and blue. Though Kentucky is 1-4 (0-2 in conference) overall, they are averaging 23.0 points per game. Part of that is due to Stoops taking a page out of Urban Meyer’s and Les Miles’s book of having a two quarterback system.
Both Maxwell Smith (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and Jalen Whitlow (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) are capable quarterbacks. The thing that impresses people about them is their unique skill set. Smith is more of the typical pocket passer, while Whitlow (46 carries for 238 yards and three touchdowns) is athletic and can keep plays alive with his feet. The only thing that Stoops is concerned about is should he start both quarterbacks and try to give his offense a different look to confuse Alabama or does he trust one guy to go out and try to win the game? As far as passing is concerned, both quarterbacks have done well this season. Smith has 634 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Whitlow has 499 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcats don’t have too many physical receivers to help the aerial attack with the exception of Anthony Kendrick and Alexander Montgomery. At 6-foot-3, 233 pounds, Kendrick provides a security blanket for either Smith or Whitlow to throw to. From the tight end position, Kendrick will be crucial in the redzone and on third down for Kentucky if they can move the ball.
With his height of 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Montgomery has great hands, top speed and can go up to get the football. Though he is a freshman, he will be called upon in the game to help out the quarterback and make huge plays on the receiving end. He along with Kendrick will have the daunting task of trying to create separating and get open down field. The leading receiver for Kentucky is Javess Blue. Despite his height of 6 feet, 190 pounds, Blue is a burner. Not only does he have great hands and tremendous speed, he also runs crisps routes and is great in the return game. The Wildcats may try to use Blue in a lot of screens and short passes to get his momentum going down field. So far this season, he has 22 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama will enter this game as the No.1 team in the nation with a 5-0 record, but the only thing on their minds is continuing to improve as a team. Nick Saban is all about character and he understands that if his players execute well and play to the standard, then every game should go as planned. Coming into this matchup, Alabama’s defense is tied with Florida’s for fourth in the nation, surrendering 12.2 points per game. Offensively, the Crimson Tide is scoring 37.0 points per game.
Though many people use Facebook, lately it’s been Twitter that’s caused a lot of commotion in the realm of sports. After calling out Alabama’s defense via Twitter, Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offensive got a taste of its own medicine. The Crimson Tide’s defense called their bluff and shut them out 25-0. This week, Kentucky’s running back Jojo Kemp took is comments to Twitter in trying to gain his 15 minutes of fame, calling out Alabama’s defense. In an interview with Kentucky Sports Television CN/2 Kemp said to reporters “(Alabama) they’re going to get scored on, yeah I’m guaranteeing it.”
For Kemp in the Wildcats, it’s time to put up or shut up. Though Kentucky is scoring 23.0 points per game, their defense is 59th in the nation giving up 25.6 points per game. They must come out and challenge Alabama if they are even thinking about keeping this one close.
The last time these two teams played each other was on October 3, 2009 in Commonwealth Stadium. The Crimson Tide won 38-20, behind the performances of Greg McElroy and Mark Ingram. The time to rebuild and getting better for the future starts now for the Wildcats. Can Stoops get his guys prepared to face Alabama and will the support of the crowed be there? The answers to these questions remain to be seen.