Let's not beat around the bush here; the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team the Kentucky Wildcats will face all season long. The game is in Tuscaloosa, and it is the Tide's homecoming game. It doesn't matter that starting running back Damien Harris may not play due to an ankle injury. It doesn't matter that Alabama's All-American linebacker was just busted due to carrying an illegal firearm.
The reality of the situation is that the Tide are as stacked with talent than any team in the country. They are deeper at every position than Kentucky. The Wildcats have an almost impossible task to overcome at Alabama. Vegas now has the spread at Alabama -35. Yikes.
I'm being practical and realistic here; I have no illusions of winning this game. The players and the coaching staff think differently and they should. A football team should never go into a game thinking about losing. But as a fan, I have to face the facts.
So instead of giving you keys to victory, I'm giving you Keys to Keeping it Respectable. I think if Kentucky loses by less than 20 points, we should all feel pretty good about their performance.
Keys to Keeping it Respectable
- The Offensive Line Has to Bring It- The front seven for Alabama is as disruptive of a force that Kentucky will see all season. The offensive line for Kentucky played quite well against a good defense last week versus South Carolina. They were able to open holes for Boom Williams and Benny Snell. Both running backs scored, Boom ran for over 100 yards, and Snell ran for 73 yards, almost all of them coming in the fourth quarter. Both running backs are extremely gifted and are some of the better running backs in the conference. If the O-line can give them some room, I think that the offense can eat up some clock and maybe even put up some points.
- Stephen Johnson Must Stay Poised- The biggest attribute that Johnson has brought to the quarterback position is his poise. He, for the most part, makes the correct decision in the pocket. He runs the ball but only when he needs to do that. The team needs him to be the calming game manager that he has been so far. What he doesn't need to do is try and win this game with his arm. The least amount of turnovers, the better. Alabama is good enough without getting gifts from Kentucky. Johnson needs to continue what he has been doing for the ‘Cats.
- Calling on Denzil Ware and Jordan Jones- The one constant on defense this season has been Jordan Jones. He is one of the leading tacklers in the country, and Denzil Ware has really been playing some quality football lately. Ware is coming off a performance in which he was named co-defensive lineman of the week in the SEC. The defense really seems to be feeding off the energy of these two layers in particular. If they set the tone early, they can give the rest of their teammate's confidence. It will be difficult to keep up the pace as Alabama runs in player after player, but at least for a half let them know you came to play.
- Get Fired Up, Stoops- Speaking of responding, Mark Stoops was as about intense as I have ever seen him on the sidelines, especially when the defense was on the field. Since he has taken ownership over the defense, they have been playing with more fire and passion. Stoops needs to continue to be more of a defensive coordinator. Whatever he has done has worked for a game and a half. I think his attention to detail has been the difference.
- Avoid the Injury Bug- The last thing we need out of this game is an injury to a key player. The ‘Cats are already battling injuries and attrition; they don't need to lose anyone else. This is what is toughest about playing a team like Alabama; their players are fresh while Kentucky's are worn out by the end of the game. Being fatigued is one of the leading causes of injury. When a player is tired, he loses focus and may not be going at 100%. If the player across from you is fresh and ready to rock at full tilt while you're gasping for breath and trying to stay on your feet, the likelihood of being injured is much higher than if you are as fresh as your opponent. This kind of game is where the coaches may want to substitute some of the younger guys in near the end of the game if it is already out of hand. That way, the starters can save some energy and it will decrease the chances of an injury. I wouldn't call this a defeatist attitude; I would call this living to fight another day.
Like I said at the beginning, keeping this game under 20 would be huge. But I don't think it will happen. Bama is too good, Saban is too good, and it's at their house.