Another week of Alabama football brings us yet another downtrodden opponent wearing (and feeling) blue. This time around Alabama visits the lovely bluegrass state where hoops, horses, bourbon and their famous Kentucky (KY) jelly reign supreme. By the way, folks that Kentucky jelly does not taste good on toast. Anyway, Kentucky football is typically an afterthought for Cats fans – it’s usually just a slight little diversion before John Calipari’s main event tips off on Rupp Arena’s hardwood.
This year, however, there’s a little more interest in the Kentucky football program. New coach Mark Stoops (yes, that’s Bob’s brother) has infused a new life into the football program and the results are being seen in the stands (this game will be a sellout) and in the recruiting rankings (Rivals currently ranks them 7th in the 2014 cycle), if not on the football field (they are 1-4 with their only win being over Miami (OH). Stoops’ background is in constructing defenses and the 2013 Kentucky defense has been somewhat decent for him this year. Offensively, Stoops reached out to Neal Brown to bring the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach “Air Raid” offense to Lexington but suffice it to say they haven’t quite gotten their up-tempo passing game off the ground just yet.
Here’s what to watch for this week…
Alabama on Offense
We’ll take a bit of an analytical approach this week as we determine how to attack the Kentucky defense. The good news is that despite Stoops’ best efforts, Kentucky’s defense doesn’t have quite the talent that he was accustomed to as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma or Florida State. In fact, their open field tackling looked atrocious on film. Additionally, one of the Cats’ best pass rushers, Bud Dupree (3.5 sacks), appears to be out for this game with an injured pectoral muscle so it’s not like things are getting better for them this season. However, Kentucky does have two of the largest interior players that we’ve seen since the Georgia game last year. Yes, evidently Stoops likes big butts (and he cannot lie) because he has one defensive tackle weighing in at 338 and the other at 320. That kind of size will be something new for the interior of Alabama’s line to deal with this season so we’ll actually get to see if size really does matter. Thus far, it appears most of you will be relieved to know that size doesn’t seem to matter – the Cats rank 13th in the conference (out of 14, of course) against the run and allowed South Carolina to salt away the final four minutes of their game with a heavy dosage of ground and pound. Honestly, the Gamecocks could run the ball any time they wanted.
Statistically, the Kentucky defense appears to fare better against the pass as they are ranked 3rd in the conference in pass defense. The Cats did hold Teddy Bridgewater to his lowest output of the season but, then again, they also let Connor Shaw throw for 262 yards (and 275 as a team). If you take the time to dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Kentucky’s pass efficiency defensive ranking is 13th so it’s fair to conclude that their pass defense looks good because teams are spending much of the second half running out the clock on their way to a win. Basically, what we’re trying to say is that Saturday should be a good day for the Alabama offense.
Blurred Lines: Alabama is about to play their seventh (I had to double-check this – good Lord, we are seven games into the season!) game of the season and it would appear that they are on the verge of having two more new starters. Gone is Ryan Kelly at center (due to injury) and hanging by a thread at right tackle is Austin Shepherd. Saturday’s game will be the second step of a four step process to get Chad Lindsay and Grant Hill integrated into the offensive line before they’ll have to face LSU. Hill played pretty well last week so we’ll all need to watch this game closely to see how much Hill plays against Kentucky. Our guess is that Hill and Shepherd will split time at right tackle in a position battle that will likely last for a couple more weeks. Again, they didn’t take the redshirt off Hill to sit him so we think he has the advantage here.
The Drake: Just like Jerry Seinfeld & Co, we love the Drake! Kenyan Drake is coming off a high-flying performance where he Supermanned that foe from Georgia State with a spectacular touchdown catch & run. We continue to maintain that there’s just a different buzz when the Drake gets the ball and we hope to see his carries increase again this week.
One of These Nights: One of these crazy ole nights Amari Cooper is going to show up and remind folks that he’s still on the team. The angst coming out of Tuscaloosa is reaching maximum levels so we expect to see Coop targeted quite a few times against Kentucky. Coach Saban says this is about as healthy as he’s been so it looks to be now or never. As we’ve stated previously, Cooper has a nagging foot/toe injury that won’t be healed until the offseason so we’ve stopped looking for version 1.0 and instead look for him to be used on short to intermediate routes.
Life In the Fast Lane: DeAndrew White is coming of age before our very eyes. Look for a couple of deep shots to White as he takes over the role of Bama’s deep threat.
Down with OPP: Look for Alabama to be down with Other People’s Property because Alabama will own the football and the time of possession on Saturday. Alabama is ranked 3rd in the conference in time of possession while Kentucky is ranked dead last, with dead being the operative word. This should make for a very long evening for the Cats’ defense.
- We think Alabama will have two 100 yard rushers. If they don’t, we will be within 20 yards of getting this correct. Look for Yeldon and Drake to have a big game against the declawed Cats front seven.
- Cooper will be targeted at least five times. They will be primarily on hitch routes, crossing routes and other short to mid-range passes. Their outside corners typically play at least 10 yards off and keep everything in front of them.
- AJ McCarron should have a very efficient game. Look for around 250 yards and a high completion percentage as he’ll happily take the shorter throws that KY gives up.
- One thing KY does well is rush the passer. Thus far they have registered 12 sacks (good for 5th in the conference) so even with Dupree sitting out, look for Kentucky to sack AJ a couple of times. Stoops loves to bring the house on occasion and that should befuddle our inexperienced line.
- Kentucky likes to play off coverage with their corners so hitches and screens will once again play a prominent role in the passing game.
- Look for OJ Howard to have a couple of big catches. South Carolina’s less talented tight end was oftentimes wide open in the Kentucky secondary.
Alabama on Defense
In order to run a successful version of the “Air Raid” offense, you must have a tremendous passing quarterback who can read a defense and make quick decisions and accurate throws. Kentucky is still looking for theirs. Throughout most of the season, offensive coordinator Neal Brown has used two different quarterbacks but against South Carolina they settled on Jalen Whitlow. Whitlow threw for 178 yards and rushed for 69 more, accounting for three touchdowns against the Gamecocks last week. But, Whitlow has shown that he’s far from an accomplished passer, preferring to complete short throws with simple reads. This will be a very difficult game for Whitlow and the Kentucky offense.
One, Two Three: Look for Neal Brown and Mark Stoops to be caught in between wanting to slow the offense down to give their defense a chance to rest and revving up the tempo to attack Bama’s D. Kentucky is LAST in the conference in getting first downs so three and outs will be a charm for the Tide.
Whiter Shade of Pale: You should see the equivalent of a “white out” on virtually every offensive snap that Kentucky takes because the white jerseys from Alabama should be pouring into the backfield. Kentucky’s offensive line looks like a support group for anorexics anonymous and these tiny kittens can’t seem to generate any kind of push for their 13th ranked running game. I honestly think Hoover High School’s line is bigger than what Kentucky trots out there: 283, 284, 289, 290 and 308. Big Al poops bigger than these guys. Their guards are particularly ineffective.
Tiny Dancers: The Kentucky running backs are built much like Ole Miss’ Jeff Scott – small and quick. Kentucky doesn’t really feature a downhill running game so look for them to find ways to get their backs the ball out of the backfield. Also, look for DePriest or Mosley to light one of these poor little dudes up in pass protection.
Secondary is Primary: Deion Belue played one series last week. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is out once again. Eddie Jackson is starting his fourth game and evidently to be continuously coached up by Saban on the sidelines. Landon Collins will be playing deep safety once again and is still adjusting on the fly to his new role. As the supporting safety, Vinnie Sunseri continues to give up deep passes, even against Georgia State. You see where I’m going with this? Kentucky does have a sophisticated passing game and their up-tempo offense will likely catch players out of position several times on Saturday night.
Deja Voodoo: Kentucky’s run game should look very similar to Ole Miss’ run concepts. Little guys go wide on the fly sweeps while the QB will threaten the middle of the defense on the read option. Whitlow is a far more accomplished runner than Wallace so Alabama will have to honor their rush lanes and his running ability.
- Alabama will set a season high in sacks
- The secondary should pick off two more passes, minimum. Tempted to say at least three after watching film.
- A’Shawn Robinson and Jeoffrey Pagan should be able to show out and appear in the backfield so much you’ll think they are a part of the huddle
- I’m kinda thinking CJ Mosley picks off a pass or deflects a pass that leads to a pick
- Look for Alabama to get burned by a deep pass on a fake bubble screen and a go pattern to Javess Blue
- Kentucky will empty their backfield and run a QB draw in short yardage situations (they also like to do this on first down).
Alabama on Special Teams
Look for Christion Jones to have a nice game. Kentucky is last in net punting so Jones should have quite a few chances to pop one. But, if Kentucky lines up for a field goal, consider it good – they are six out of six on the season and he strikes the ball very well.
Alabama’s running game should rule the day while the defense makes life very, very difficult for the Cats’ young and inexperienced QB. South Carolina was up 27-7 before hanging on for a 35-28 win. Alabama will have no such trouble.
Prediction: Alabama 37 Kentucky 6
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