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UK vs. Alabama: Breaking Down the Rolling Tide

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The Kentucky Wildcats enter today's tilt (12:20 EST) with college football royalty, in great need of affirmation.  After last weekend's titanic sinking at the hands of the Florida Gators, the 'Cats'  collective psyche needs a renovation.  And there is nothing better to renovate the soul, than a win over No. 3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0). 

That was pretty easy to type, but it will much more difficult to execute.  After-all, Alabama comes into today's contest, perhaps the most impressive team in the country, up to this point in the season.  The Tide have totally dominated their opponents since the second half of their initial contest with then No. 7 Virginia Tech (a 34-24 'Bama win), outscoring their foes 146-35. 

Alabama not only overwhelms their opponents with stifling defense, the Tide offense is averaging over 40 points per game, a rather large number considering the preseason questions about the quarterback position.  Simply put, Alabama is a dangerously complete football team, and here's why ...

Alabama Offensive Personnel

Greg McElroy -- 6'3", 220 lb junior quarterback: This year, McElroy's first as a starter, he has completed 63 of 93 passes (67.7%) for 938 yards (234.5 yards per game), seven touchdowns, and one interception. 

Versus Arkansas last week, McElroy completed 17 of 24 passes for 291 yards, and three touchdowns (no interceptions).  He came into the season as one of the "Mystery Men of the SEC," a club chock-full of unproven quarterback talent.  McElroy, though, has played brilliantly.  The UK secondary is in for a real challenge Saturday afternoon.

Mark Ingram -- 5'10", 215 lb sophomore running back: In 2009, Ingram has rushed 61 times for 347 yards (5.7 yards per carry), and four touchdowns.  He's also caught 13 passes for 141 yards (10.8 yards per reception) and three touchdowns.  Last season, in earning Third Team All-SEC honors (Phil Steele), as well as making the All-SEC Freshmen Team, Ingram rushed 143 times for 728 yards (5.1 ypc), and a freshman school record 12 touchdowns, while splitting time with Glen Coffee (now of the San Francisco 49er's).  His father, Mark Ingram, played for the New York Giants, and was a key figure in the 1992 Giants Super Bowl win -- Last season versus UK (a 17-14 Tide victory), Ingram ran 11 times for 66 yards (6.0 ypc) and a touchdown.

Bullish, yet speedy runner presents a real problem for UK's defense.  His combination of speed and strength is not a combo Kentucky's defense has handled with aplomb in previous contests.

Trent Richardson -- 5'11", 220 lb freshman running back: This season Richardson has rushed 38 times for 280 yards (7.4 ypc) and four touchdowns.  He's also made five receptions for 42 yards (8.4 ypr).  Richardson is the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week after carrying the ball nine times for 65 yards (7.2 ypc) and a touchdown, in last week's game against Arkansas.  Coming out of high school in Pensacola, Florida, Richardson was rated the No. 6 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.  He was a Parade, USA Today, and SuperPrep All-America.  In his senior year in high school, the five-star athlete rushed 225 times for 2,090 yards (9.3 ypc) and 26 touchdowns. 

In 'Bama's game last week versus Arkansas, Richardson exploded for a 52-yard touchdown run, which followed up his 35-yard run for six versus Florida International earlier in the year. 

Terry Grant -- 5'9", 190 lb junior running back: On the year, Grant has ran 40 times for 166 yards (4.2 ypc), and three touchdowns.  He's also snagged three passes for 47 yards (15.7 ypr).  He started at the running back spot in 2007 for the Tide when he ran for 891 yards and eight touchdowns.  In 2008, Grant rushed 35 times for 88 yards (2.5 ypc) and one touchdown.

Grant unleashed a 42-yard touchdown run versus Florida International earlier this season.

Roy Upchurch -- 6'0", 205 lb senior running back: In 2009, Upchurch has run for 107 yards on 11 carries (9.7 ypc), and scored one touchdown.  He's caught three passes for 10 yards (3.3 ypr).  He played in 10 games in 2008, recording 350 rushing yards on 58 carries (6.0 ypc), and nine catches for 101 yards (11.2 ypr).  In 2007, Upchurch played in 12 games; he carried the ball 50 times for 237 yards (4.4 ypc) and one touchdown.  He also caught seven passes for 51 yards (7.3 ypr) -- Last season versus UK, Upchurch carried the ball five times for 19 yards (3.9 ypc).

Julio Jones -- 6'4", 210 lb sophomore wide receiver: In three games this season, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year has caught 7 passes for 120 yards (17.1 ypr), and one touchdown.  Last year Jones started all 14 Alabama games, becoming only the 11th freshman Tide football player to start 'Bama's opening game since freshmen became eligible in 1972.  In 2008, Jones caught 58 passes for 924 yards (15.9 ypr), and four touchdowns -- Last season versus UK, he made three catches for 52 yards (17.3 ypr).

Last week versus Arkansas, Jones caught a 50-yard touchdown pass.  One of the most talented receivers in the country, Jones will receive attention from Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley.  Their battle might go a long way in determining who's happy, and who ain't, come the final horn. 

Marquis Maze -- 5'10", 179 lb sophomore wide receiver: This year, Maze has caught eight passes for 194 yards (24.2 ypr) and two touchdowns.  He started four games as a freshman in 2008, recording 11 catches for 137 yards (12.5 ypr) -- Last season versus UK, Maze started, but did not make a catch.

Maze caught an 80-yard bomb for a touchdown last week versus Arkansas, to go along with a 34-yard touchdown reception.

Mike McCoy -- 6'3", 215 lb senior wide receiver: In 2009, McCoy has caught eight passes for 138 yards (17.2 ypr), and one touchdown.  In 2008, he started nine games along side Julio Jones, and made 16 catches for 191 yards (11.9 ypr) -- He did not play against UK last season due to a hamstring injury.

Colin Peek -- 6'6", 255 lb senior tight end: This season Peek has made 8 catches for 95 yards (11.9 ypr).  A Georgia Tech transfer, Peek sat out last season, but in his sophomore year for the Yellow Jackets, he caught 25 passes for 258 yards (10.1 ypr). and a touchdown.

Brad Smelley -- 6'3", 218 lb sophomore tight end: In 2009, Smelley has caught three passes for 12 yards (4.0 ypr).  He came off of his redshirt last year in the seventh game of the season against Ole Miss.  Over the second half of last year, he caught seven passes for 98 yards (14.0 ypr).  Smelley's brother, Chris, played quarterback at South Carolina, and now plays baseball at Alabama.

Alabama Special Team's Dynamo

Javier Arenas -- 5'9", 198 lb senior kick returner/defensive back: Arenas has returned 15 punts this year for 285 yards (19.0 yards per return).  He's returned five kick-offs for a total of 141 yards (28.2 ypr).  In 2008, the Second Team All-SEC performer averaged 15.9 yards per punt return, and 23.6 yards per kick-off return.  Also, in '08 he returned three punts for touchdowns -- 87, 80, and 73 yards.  In 2007, he returned 21 punts for 323 yards (15.4 ypr), and one touchdown, as well as 27 kick-offs for 657 yards (24.3 ypr).  In 2006, Arenas returned 31 punts for 286 yards (9.2) and two touchdowns, to go along with 18 kick-off returns for 313 yards (17.4).  Arenas is Alabama's record-holder in the following categories: Punt Return Yardage (Career) - 1,544: Punt Return Yardage (Season) - 650 ('08): Punt Return Yardage (Game) - 153 (vs. Ole Miss last year) -- Last season versus UK, Arenas returned four punts for 52 yards.

What's been keeping UK special teams coach Steve Ortmayer up at night, Javier Arenas my friend, Javier Arenas. 

Alabama Defensive Personnel

Rolando McClain -- 6'4", 258 lb junior linebacker: The First Team All-SEC (Third Team All-America by the AP), has recorded 23 tackles (15 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and three quarterback hurries in 2009.  McClain is a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nations top linebacker -- Last season versus UK, McClain led the Tide in tackles with 10 (four solo).  He also returned a first quarter Mike Hartline fumble four-yards for a touchdown.

Mark Barron -- 6'2", 215 lb sophomore defensive back: In 2009, Barron has made 20 tackles (eight solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and four pass breakups. 

Terrence Cody -- 6'5", 365 lb senior defensive lineman: "Mount Cody," as he is nicknamed, has recorded 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup,and one quarterback hurry in 2009.  The First Team All-America anchors the defense that is second in the nation (and first in the SEC) in rush defense, allowing only 47.3 yards per game -- Last season versus UK, Cody recorded two assisted tackles, and allowed UK to run for only 35 yards.

Eryk Anders -- 6'2", 227 lb senior linebacker: This year Anders has made 19 tackles (9 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and three quarterback hurries -- Last season versus UK, Anders executed two tackles.

Javier Arenas -- 5'9", 198 lb senior defensive back: In 2009, Arenas has made 18 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, and two pass breakups -- Last season versus UK, Arenas recorded six tackles (4 solo).

Brandon Deaderick -- 6'4", 287 lb senior defensive end:  The former Elizabethtown High School stand-out has recorded 5 tackles in 2009.  Coming off a gunshot wound suffered the week prior to Alabama's opener against Virgina Tech,  Deaderick has played in all four Tide games, but he has yet to start.  Saturday, Deaderick will be lining up across from his high school teammate, UK's Zipp Duncan -- Last season versus UK, Deaderick had two tackles.

Tide Tidbits

Alabama gives up only 1.7 yards per rush to their opponents ... Florida International ran for one yard on 26 carries ... The Tide receivers are averaging 14.2 yards per catch ... 'Bama has converted 45% of their third down conversion tries ... Opposing quarterbacks are completing only 48.4% of their passes (59-122) against the Tide ... 'Bama has recorded 13 sacks ... Alabama's punt return average - 18.8 yards, their opponents - 4.3 yards ... Virginia Tech scored 24 points on the Tide, but averaged only 2.1 yards per carry ... Florida International had a 96-yard kick-off return for a touchdown against the Tide ... Alabama has outscored their opponents 162-52 in their four games ... The Tide held Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett to only 12-35 passing (34.3%) for 160 yards, one touchdown and one interception ... Mallett was sacked three times. 

Alabama Accolades

Alabama is ranked in the top-11 in the country in the following categories: 2nd - Rush Defense (47.3 ypg); 2nd - Total Defense (202.5 ypg); 5th - Offensive Pass Efficiency (169.0); 8th - Total Offense (490.5 ypg); 9th - Scoring Offense (40.5 ppg); 10th - Rush Offense (234.3 ypg); 10th - Tackles for Loss (8.0); 11th - Punt Return Average (18.8).

CliffsNotes Analysis ("Must" Edition)

1. UK must be mentally focused.

2. UK must not commit silly, mental mistakes, i.e. excessive penalties.

3. UK must not start playing in the second quarter.  The game starts at 12:20 fellas.

4. UK must run the ball.  Some how, some way.

5. UK must not allow big plays, which 'Bama has a penchant for.

6. UK must throw for more than 85 yards (Hartline's total against Florida).. 

7. UK must find a way to get Randall Cobb into space (no, not the heavens, open space).

8. UK must not allow the 'Bama backs to run as with gifted with impunity (less than 175 would be nice).

9. UK must not average less than 10.0 yards per catch.

10. UK must score (twice would be nice) a special teams or defensive touchdown.

11. UK must play like Wildcats, or risk ending up a skinned cat.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Tide!