JOE COX: Will Kentucky Play Respectable With A Moral Victory Against No. 1 Crimson Tide Saturday?
One of the oldest aphorisms in sports is Keep It Simple, Stupid. Against South Carolina in Week 4, Kentucky relied on the KISS method to obtain its second win of the season and third in a row against South Carolina, 17-10.
One of the biggest complaints against Mark Stoops’s Wildcat program is that UK has consistently failed to establish any sort of identity. But with dual-threat QB Stephen Johnson at the helm, Kentucky ran and ran and ran again, using the run to set up a handful of timely pass plays from Johnson to hold the Gamecocks at bay. The win was pivotal, but unfortunately, it leads into choppier waters, with this weekend’s trip to NO. 1 Alabama, where UK has never won, and is a five-touchdown underdog.
WHERE WE ARE
For approximately the last 19 minutes of Saturday’s game, UK did not throw a pass. The early explosiveness of Boom Williams gave way to the churning running style of freshman Benny Snell. Williams finished with 123 rushing yards and Snell added 73 more. UK put up a solid 351 total yards of offense.
Meanwhile, the defense made an appearance. UK sacked Carolina QB Brandon McIlwain four times, and held the Gamecocks running game to a long play of just 12 yards all night. For a defense that had been horrifying bad on 3rd downs, UK held Carolina to 3 of 13 conversions.
As for problem areas, Stephen Johnson had some accuracy issues and sometimes makes questionable decisions, although down the stretch, he was near flawless. Kentucky lost the turnover battle 2-0, which is not a mistake from which the Wildcats will easily recover in the future. Certainly not THIS Saturday.
WHO THEY ARE You may have heard of Alabama. They are the No. 1 team in the nation, with four national championships in the last seven years, all under the leadership of the greatest coach in modern college football, Nick Saban. Kentucky has won twice against Alabama ever (in 1922 and 1997), and has never won at Alabama.
Bama averages outgaining their opponents by over 200 yards per game, and gives us just 2.3 yards per carry on the ground. Freshman QB Jalen Hurts is a talented passer and runner, and the Tide have other skill players who can burn defenses easily, like WR Calvin Ridley and starting RB Damien Harris of Berea, Kentucky. Alabama has 13 QB sacks in four games defensively. DE Jonathan Allen may be the best defensive player in the SEC, although he has plenty of talented company for Bama.
WHAT TO EXPECT There’s no good time to play at the best team in the country as a 35-point underdog. Kentucky hasn’t been this big of an underdog for at least a decade, and probably since the Bill Curry era. If Kentucky can play four reasonably solid quarters and make a few plays against ‘Bama, it’ll be something of a moral victory. Which is good, because a literal one is simply impossible.
Alabama 44, Kentucky 10
AROUND THE CONFERENCE My current power rankings. 1. Alabama (4-0) 2. Texas A&M (4-0) 3. Tennessee (4-0) 4. Ole Miss (2-2) 5. Arkansas (3-1) 6. Florida (3-1) 7. Georgia (3-1) 8. Auburn (2-2) 9. Missouri (2-2) 10. LSU (2-2) 11. Mississippi State (2-2) 12. Kentucky (2-2) 13. South Carolina (2-2) 14. Vanderbilt (2-2)
Not a great prediction week for yours truly. 5-4 is about as ugly as it gets. I’m at 33-11 for the season, which sounds okay, but given the number of lop-sided non-conference match-ups so far, isn’t good at all. Maybe this week will turn it around.
My picks for the weekend: Alabama 44, Kentucky 10 Missouri 24, LSU 21 Arkansas 48, Alcorn State 3 Florida 27, Vanderbilt 10 Auburn 38, UL-Monroe 7 Tennessee 35, Georgia 28 Texas A&M 41, South Carolina 14 Ole Miss 38, Memphis 17