This week, we have the privilege of sharing a Q&A with Roll 'Bama Roll, the SB Nation Alabama Crimson Tide community. Probably no community in the SEC knows more about football than Alabama fans, and here on A Sea of Blue, we have often remarked on the similarities between Alabama football and Kentucky basketball.
As you all know, the Tide come to town tomorrow, and it figures to be a tough spot for the Wildcats. You can read my answers to their questions here.
My questions are in bold, and the answers from RBR in italics.
1. I imagine Alabama views Kentucky in football pretty much like Kentucky views most of the SEC in basketball; just another victim. Given the fact that Kentucky showed some signs of offensive life against South Carolina (admittedly with Jadeveon Clowney on the sideline), how worried are you that Alabama will be overconfident coming into Lexington? Why or why not?
I do think the fans probably view Kentucky the way that you described. I don't really expect the team to be overconfident for the game, though. I think that the scare Kentucky was able to give South Carolina a bit of a scare will certainly be used as fuel to make sure the team is focused.
2. While perusing the stats, I found that Alabama had a shocking (to me) #12 ranking in the SEC in rushing offense, just one spot ahead of Kentucky. Is this a problem for the Tide, and why is this ranking so low given the embarrassment of riches you have at running back?
Is it a problem? Depends on how you look at it. Bama's leading rusher, T.J. Yeldon (who has 49% of the team's total carries and probably 75-80% of the non-garbage time carries) is averaging 6.18 yards per carry, which isn't far off of 6.33 yards per carry mark he set last year.
The conference rankings aren't a mirage, though. This team is not as good of a running team as it has been in the past few years. Part of the dip in the numbers is because fewer running plays are being called, and part of it is because when they are called, they've not been as successful. The reason is because the new offensive line is thought to be better equipped for pass blocking than run blocking. The coaches have been experimenting a bit with the line (even at this late stage) to try to shore that up and maybe get some more power on the line. Surprisingly, this improvement is supposed to come at the hands of a true freshman (Grant Hill).
3. Roll 'Bama Roll has been one of the few who hasn't ranked Kentucky dead last in every one of their SEC Power Poll ballots. What, if anything, do you see in this team, however microscopic, that justifies those ballots, other than the abject suckage of the team below?
Well, I think Kentucky has probably played one of the toughest schedules to date in the conference. The last three games have been pretty brutal. Despite that difficulty, they've managed to put up some pretty respectable performances against teams that are supposed to be far superior. I thought Kentucky had a strong chance to beat Louisville, especially. Kentucky's defense was doing its job, and it felt like any moment the would put something together on offense. Similarly, the game against South Carolina showed that this team is not one that is simply going to lay down and quit. I would say Kentucky has been fairly impressive in defeat.
4. Around here, a lot of folks use the "eye test" to evaluate Kentucky's performance this season, and many have come away impressed compared to the abysmally low expectations coming in to the season. What are your perceptions of the Wildcats when it comes to the "eye test," and why?
I think the defense is much better than I expected. It looks like you guys are currently allowing basically a full touchdown less than was allowed per game last year. That's some impressive improvement. On flip side, though... The little bit that I've seen of the Kentucky offense has been pretty bad. The Louisville game in particular was agonizing to watch, because it really felt like the game was in reach if only something would click.
5. Compared to last year's team, how would you rate this year's Alabama team? How much higher is their ceiling, and what would it take for them to get there?
At this point, I'd probably rank them below last year's Alabama's team. I think the defense is probably as good, and might even be a bit better (despite JFF's record-setting performance). The offense, though, is I think pretty clearly a notch below last year's team. How high is the ceiling? I would say that this team is well capable of winning a national championship. Getting just a little bit better performance out of the offensive line is really the only thing I think needs to happen for that to come to pass.
6. A couple of fairly embarrassing revelations of questionable conduct by former Tide player D.J. Fluker and in the matter of current defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (surely an SEC All-Name player at least). How concerned are Alabama fans about these two issues?
Strangely, not very. Everything from the national media has been, if not sympathetic to Bama, than at least supportive, in the sense that the media seems to hate the NCAA so much right now, that they'll take absolutely any story they can and try to tear it down. It's a very weird time we're in, and very different from, say five years ago when the media was trying to find stories for the purpose of bringing down players/programs, like with Reggie Bush/USC. Now it seems every story is pointed towards how 'bad" the NCAA is.
The guy that did the Fluker investigation stated he wouldn't turn over his evidence to the NCAA and said that the people that talked to him would not talk to the NCAA. The whole thing was meant to embarrass the NCAA. As far as HaHa goes, the only concern is how long he'll be suspended and whether he'll be back in time to play LSU (which most expect will happen).
7. Predict the score of the game, and describe generally how it plays out.
I'm going to guess 34-10, Bama. I think Kentucky's defense will actually keep this game a bit close, with Bama holding a two score lead going into halftime. As the game wears on, though, I think Kentucky will start to wilt and Bama will put up a couple scores late to make it look a lot worse than it was.