W2W4 – Alabama vs Kentucky

The news of Bama’s back up quarterback abandoning his teammates and a defensive end who evidently is a wannabe Dirty Harry dominated the headlines this week but somewhere in there you should know that Alabama has an upcoming game this weekend against the Kentucky Wildcats.

The Wildcats opened the season by blowing a 35-10 lead at home against Southern Miss (a 44-35 loss) and then followed up that debacle up by getting crushed by the Florida Gators 45-7 the next week. However, the Cats come into the game with a little bit of confidence after beating New Mexico State (62-42) and South Carolina (17-10) in the last two weeks.

In preparation for this week’s W2W4, we studied the Wildcats’ game against South Carolina. Here’s what we gleaned from watching two of the SEC’s worst teams battle it out for 60 minutes: insomniacs need to have this game on some type of running TV loop. They’ll be asleep in minutes. Anyway, here’s what to watch for this week…

Alabama on Offense

With Blake Barnett’s departure, the key question we’ll have this week is how many designed runs will be called for Jalen Hurts. With the talented Barnett providing a safety net behind Hurts, perhaps Kiffin could afford to call running plays for Hurts all the live-long day. But now, without a viable backup (yes, we know all about Bateman), can Alabama afford to risk injury to Hurts?   We don’t think so.

Injuries are the other topic that seems to consume our thoughts this week. Injuries to Damien Harris, Robert Foster and Ardarius Stewart have taken away three of Alabama’s top playmakers. Even Calvin Ridley got dinged up a couple of times last week. Each one of these kids practiced in some form or fashion this week but as of this writing we aren’t sure just how much playing time Harris or Stewart will get. Thankfully, Foster and Ridley appear to be ready to go.

Mark Stoops has taken over the defensive play calling for Kentucky this season and he’s emphasizing a 4-2 defense predicated on blitzing and disrupting plays deep in the opponent’s backfield. In watching their game against the Gamecocks, Stoops seemed to bring an extra defender on nearly every single play. It’s not a talent laden squad so Stoops appears to be trying to dictate terms to opposing offenses rather than the other way around. Keep an eye out for these things on Saturday…

Bubble Yum: South Carolina made quite a bit of hay by getting the ball out to the flanks on some bubble screens. There were a few times that Kentucky only sent two defenders outside to cover three wide receivers (trips) so bubble screens always resulted in a very favorable three on two situation for the offense outside. With Stoops blitzing out of the slot a large percentage of the time, screens were very, very effective.

Living on the Edge Part I: Kentucky brought blitzers off the edge throughout the evening and several of these blitzes ran directly into some zone read runs.

Living on the Edge Part II: Whenever the Gamecocks busted a big run, it was typically when they pulled two linemen and got them out on the edge. Kentucky’s corners and safeties didn’t seem to be very interested in taking on blockers and making tackles so USC made a living by getting their linemen outside and attacking the flanks of the Wildcat defense.

Time After Time: Time after time you can easily tell what coverage and pressure the Cats will be bringing on any particular play. Just before the snap, Kentucky shifts their secondary around, essentially tipping off their blitzes. Look for Bama to employ some dummy counts (please stay onsides guys) in an effort to get Stoops to declare his coverages and pressures. Against South Carolina, the DB covering the slot would start creeping inwards while the safety would rotate over to cover the receiver that the slot guy was leaving behind. This screams blitz! Meanwhile, the other safety would rotate back to become the single high safety – all of this happened several counts before the snap so it should be easily diagnosed. Kiffin should be able to design some routes to expose this coverage and the line should have plenty of warning to allow them to pick up the blitz. Look for a few audibles this week to blow these single high coverages up.

Do Run, Run, Run: Zone reads will once again be the order of the day but the question we have is how many times Hurts will keep the ball himself. The zone read and the fly sweeps have been a staple of the offense and we think the true freshman duo of Hurts and Jacobs will do an outstanding job of running this play. My, we do love Jacobs…

Tidebits

  • In short yardage, Kentucky’s defense was consistently outnumbered against the strong side of the formation. Look for Alabama to effectively run to the tight end side of their formations with a lot of success.
  • The Cats did not pressure the QB at all with a four man rush. FYI – they rank 106th in the country in generating sacks (1.42 per game). Hurts should have all day, even in the face of the blitz.
  • Kentucky corner Derrick Baity is 6’3. Their other corner, Chris Westry, is 6’4. Wow. They do not, however, appear to be quick so posts, slants and in routes should create plenty of separation.
  • Going into the South Carolina game, Kentucky was giving up 58% of third down conversions. Yowza.
  • The two tall corners aren’t super quick so they play way, way off wide receievers. The Gamecocks got a ton of yardage on some easy hitches – they were very effective.
  • Counter plays killed the Cats so we think we’ll see Bama use these effectively.
  • Kentucky is 59th in total defense.
  • Kentucky is 96th against the run.
  • Alabama should be able to run at will.
  • Look for Hurts to beat the KY blitz with his legs when he’s flushed or when/if Alabama calls for a QB draw.

Alabama on Defense

Kentucky’s quarterback is a Juco transfer who is starting only his third game of the year. The Wildcats didn’t ask him to do much of anything against South Carolina as QB Stephen Johnson went 11 of 19 for only 135 yards and an interception. The Wildcats, instead, took to the ground and rushed for 216 yards against the Gamecocks. However, before you start believing in the Cats’ ground attack, you should know they only rushed for 94 yards on 34 carries against the Florida Gators. It’s honestly not a very good offense.

Kentucky’s offense isn’t very imaginative and it almost seemed like their only emphasis was on not turning the ball over against South Carolina. USC is a bad, bad football team so it’s unlikely the Cats can get away with such a conservative game plan this week. Once Alabama predictably stuffs the Wildcat running game, their young, inexperienced quarterback will be reluctantly throwing into the teeth of the Bama defense. Since KY ranks last in the SEC in giving up sacks (13), this should be quite a field day for the Tide D. Here’s what to watch for…

Bang Bang: Tim Williams was arrested this week for carrying a gun without a permit. Have guns become the new favored accessory that goes with their shoes and outfit? Why is he carrying a weapon in the first place? Is he expecting some trouble? And if he runs into whatever trouble he’s expecting ad pulls out the gun and fires it, what will become of his NFL career? These kids, man…what are they thinking?

Since You’ve Been Gone: At least Alabama has a bevy of pass rushers that can inflict some damage in the Cats’ backfield. With Williams likely held out this week, we’re excited to see Rashaan Evans, Christian Miller, and Anfernee Jennings take turns in wreaking havoc behind the KY line of scrimmage.

Where’d Who Go?: Kentucky has a true freshman left tackle and this poor kid was beaten like a rented mule last week. Look for the Tide edge rushers to fight each other in an effort to line up across from this poor guy.

We Must Protect This House: All of Kentucky’s successful runs started up the middle and then bounced outside. Boom Williams (5’9, 196) has quite a bit of wiggle and he was able to turn the corner nearly every time he bounced outside to the boundary. Even true freshman Benny Snell (220 lbs) showed a nice enough burst to get outside so edge containment will be the key to stifling the KY running game.

Tidebits

  • For an athletic looking QB, Johnson does not appear to be an aggressive runner and is easily brought down by first contact. Since he weighs only 183 lbs, I guess that’s understandable. With Kentucky giving up a league leading number of sacks, Johnson will likely take a pounding that his little frame won’t be able to stand up to.
  • Follow the H back to the football. Where he goes, the run goes.
  • Tight end CJ Conrad caught five passes for 133 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico State. Saban defenses have historically had difficulty covering the tight end so he likely will be the key to the Kentucky passing game.
  • Kentucky really couldn’t generate any kind of a push in the middle of the line so tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Da’Ron Payne should be able to stuff everything between the tackles.
  • It’s funny but the only other receiver that stood out against South Carolina besides the tight end was running back Boom Williams.   The Cats liked to spread him out and have him work against safeties and linebackers in coverage.

Alabama on Special Teams

Perhaps the best thing that came out of the Kent State game was the fact that Adam Griffith stroked an absolute bomb that would have been good from 60 yards out. Griffith is 6 of 8 on field goal attempts while Kentucky is only 1 of 2 on field goals this season.

Bama should win the field position battle since JK Scott ranks fourth in the conference in punting (44.65 avg) while Kentucky’s punter is ranked 9th (40.77).

Alabama and Kentucky rank first and third respectively in the SEC in punt return average so either team appears to have the potential to break a long one. Kentucky actually gave up a USC punt return for a touchdown but it was called back due to a penalty.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

If you study the stats and watch Kentucky’s game film against South Carolina, this should be an easy win for the Tide. If you want to spend some time worrying about this game, the injuries to Harris, Stewart, and Foster on offense and the dings to Rueben Foster, Eddie Jackson and Minkah Fitzpatrick against Ole Miss should give you some pause. Thankfully, Tony Brown’s suspension is over and he can now step in and fill any void left in the secondary.

Alabama should be able to move the ball on the ground against Kentucky. Florida rushed for 244 yards. Alabama should be able to pass the ball against the Wildcats, too. Florida passed for 320 yards. Heck, even New Mexico State rushed for 223 and passed for 277 against the Cats.

Alabama’s defense should limit Kentucky’s offense to 10 points or less and Alabama’s offense should find enough plays to eventually pull away over the course of the game. Kentucky’s defense has no depth so they will be left out there to die by their offensive teammates. Distractions and injuries are the only things slowing down the Tide this week…

Final Score: Alabama 37 Kentucky 9

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