Head coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats roll into Tuscaloosa on Saturday to take on the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide. Kentucky is on a bit of a hot streak right now, with back-to-back wins, but Alabama appears to be in top form. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can make it a game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Things haven't gone exactly the way Kentucky had hoped so far in 2016. The Wildcats started the season off in a bad way by losing to Southern Miss and followed that up with a brutal defeat at the hands of Florida. But the 'Cats have managed to win two in a row and knocked off SEC East foe South Carolina last week. If this team can continue building a little momentum, a bowl game isn't out of the question.
Alabama just looks like Alabama. The Crimson Tide opened eyes with their week one demolition of USC 52-6 and have since followed that up with three more wins, including an impressive 48-43 road victory at Ole Miss. Now that Bama has the Rebel off its back, is it crazy to think the Tide could run the table? They look awfully good, particularly on offense.
Let's go ahead and get the facts out of the way. Alabama is 36-2-1 all-time against Kentucky. Besides losing to the Wildcats in 1997 when Mike DuBose was the coach, the Crimson Tide haven't been beaten by Kentucky since 1922. Even Bear Bryant couldn't beat Alabama. He was 0-for-2 against the Tide as Kentucky's coach. Ironic, huh?
Kentucky at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Alabama -35.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Kentucky's Running Game
The Wildcats aren't really known for having a lot of success through the air, and quite frankly, Alabama is probably too good to let that happen. For Kentucky to have a chance in this game, it will need to sustain production on the ground. The longer the 'Cats can keep Alabama's offense off the field, the better for them. Kentucky has a very talented running back in Stanley "Boom" Williams. He is plenty capable of breaking plays if he has room to run. The key will be whether Kentucky's offensive line can man up against the Alabama front seven. Florida has the best front seven of any team the Wildcats have seen thus far, and the Gators held them to 94 rushing yards.
2. Alabama's Special Teams
Probably the most underrated area on Alabama's team is special teams. As good as the Crimson Tide is on offense and defense, they have won a ton of games under Nick Saban because of momentum swings after huge punt returns and other special teams plays. As a team, Alabama is averaging more than 20 yards per punt return this year and has already taken two back for touchdowns — those numbers are leading the SEC in both categories. For a Kentucky team that has had trouble tackling, Bama's punt return game could be a problem. The Tide can also beat you in the field position game. JK Scott is averaging 44.6 yards per punt.
3. Alabama's Offense vs. Kentucky's Defense
Speaking of bad tackling... let's be real here. This is going to be the key indicator in the outcome of this game. Kentucky is ranked 109th in the FBS in total defense and is allowing 463 yards per game. Additionally, the Wildcats are giving up about 35 points per game. This is a unit that is used to getting lit up, and now it has to try to slow down a potent Alabama offense coordinated by Lane Kiffin. The Crimson Tide are third in the SEC in total offense, averaging more than 483 yards per game. More importantly, they are No. 1 in scoring offense, averaging nearly 47 points per game. These are just stats. But these stats do not look good for Kentucky.
It's pretty simple. Kentucky is outmanned at just about every position on the field. The Wildcats don't have the talent or depth to keep pace with Alabama, at least on paper. However, the great thing about college football is that games aren't played on paper. Alabama still has to strap on the helmets and have a good showing to win the game. After all, Kentucky is an SEC opponent. But still, if all goes as planned, I just don't see a way for the 'Cats to hang around in this one. The Crimson Tide offense will have a field day on Kentucky's defense.