Despite showing some major improvements in last week’s 38-35 win over Vanderbilt, including over 450 yards of total offense, the Cats continue to underwhelm in their overall game execution.
One thing can be said for sure — Kentucky must shore up several areas of concern on both sides of the ball if they want to taste victory again this season.
What’s the opposite of playing Vandy at home?
The answer is probably playing Alabama on the road — and that’s exactly what Mark Stoops and his staff will be up against on Saturday.
UK will travel to Tuscaloosa for a date with Nick Saban and the No. 1 football team in America.
The game is scheduled to kickoff at 4:00 pm EST and can be seen on the SEC Network, or as always, you can catch Tom Leach on the call by listening to 630 WLAP on the iHeart radio app.
As if things won’t be difficult enough, Kentucky has the misfortune of getting the Tide with an extra week to prepare, as their game against LSU was postponed last weekend due to COVID-19 concerns.
So in theory, you’d expect that Alabama will be healthy and hungry by game time on Saturday.
Despite only beating an 0-5 Vandy team by three points, there were several positive takeaways from UK’s offensive approach following the bye week.
For starters, Terry Wilson looked good early, really good.
His two first-half touchdown tosses were a welcomed sight for anyone who follows Kentucky football. When you add in the fact that they were both competed to tight ends, it’s hard not to be pleased with the progress shown in the passing game.
But this week, Wilson won’t be going against arguably the worse defense in the SEC. Instead, he’ll be met with the challenge of a Nick Saban-coached defense on their home field.
That being said — this Crimson Tide team has shown vulnerabilities that aren’t expected when you’re playing against Alabama.
First off, the Tide are giving up an average of 390 yards of offense to their opponents, 260 of those being through the air.
Alabama is surrendering an average of 1.7 passing touchdowns per game so far this season. So they’re far from invincible from a defensive standpoint.
But the Tide have shown improvement as of late. In their last two games, the Alabama defense has given up an average of about 150 passing yards per game and just one TD.
They’ll be coming off a complete beat down of Mississippi State where they held the Bulldogs scoreless while forcing two interceptions in a 41-0 route.
So yes — the Alabama defense can be penetrated through the air — but it’s still Alabama, and Terry Wilson will have to make good decisions with accurate ball placement.
Another positive for Kentucky in their win against Vanderbilt was the continued emergence of Chris Rodriguez Jr. and the coaching staff’s willingness to feed him the rock.
C-Rod carried the ball 13 times which yielded a ridiculous 149 yards and two scores. His yards-per-carry have always been impressive, but against Vandy, the sophomore running back proved once again how special he can be and the critical role that he plays in Kentucky’s offensive attack.
Middle linebacker Dylan Moses, who’s racked up 46 tackles, five tackles for loss and one interception, is also projected as a first-round pick. Getting a hat on him consistently will be critical to getting Rodriguez going.
Star cornerback Patrick Surtain II is widely projected as a high first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, so expect him to be on Josh Ali most of the game since he’s been Kentucky’s only consistent pass-catcher.
Alabama allows 128 yards on the ground per game. But will be coming off of their best performance of the season, holding Mississippi State to only 37 yards on the ground.
Whether it’s Alabama or Vandy — it’s clear that Rodriguez will need to be the catalyst for this Kentucky offense if they are to be successful.
Well — this is where things get tricky.
The Alabama offense has proven itself to be a juggernaut through seven games.
The Crimson Tide average 48 points and 555 yards of offense per contest spearheaded a name that Kentucky fans are familiar with.
Former quarterback commit Mac Jones now runs the show in Tuscaloosa, and let’s just say that he’s making the most of the opportunity.
Jones has thrown for over 2,100 yards and 13 scores, and he now finds himself as one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.
Jones is far from the only guy that Brad White and the UK defense will have to game plan for. Senior running-back Najee Harris is a load to deal with all by himself. Harris has already scored 13 touchdowns this season and is over 3,000 total yards in his career.
At wide receiver Devonta Smith is the star of the show, as senior wide receiver has hauled in 56 passes for 759 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore receiver John Metchie II has grabbed 24 balls for 517 yards and three scores.
Jaylen Waddle, who was on a historic tear with 120+ receiving yards in his first four games, suffered a fractured ankle in the win over Tennessee and is out for the rest of the season. Waddle and Smith are both projected as first-round picks.
While punter Max Duffy doesn’t play defense for Kentucky, the All-American punter has been masterful at pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Unfortunately, he missed last week’s game due to unspecified reasons, and Mark Stoops said Monday that Duffy is unlikely to play vs. Alabama.
The good news is Colin Goodfellow did well in Duffy’s absence, playing in Tuscaloosa against the Tide is a whole ‘nother animal.
With Kentucky taking a disappointing step back defensively on Saturday against Vanderbilt, there is definitely validity in the concerns that Kentucky’s defense will be able to hold up against the Tide’s high-powered offense.
Without a good week of preparation that’s followed up with smooth on-field execution, then the Cats will get their doors blown off. It’s that simple.
But this is what you get when you play in the SEC. Of course it’s a tall task to compete with a program like Alabama, but if the Cats can execute and compete with everything they have, it will go a long way mentally for players and fans.
Kentucky Wildcats (3-4) at Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0)
Date: Saturday, November 21st
Game Time: 4 pm EST
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium
TV Channel: SEC Network
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
Odds: Alabama opened as a 31-point favorite. The line has dropped to 30 as of Thursday. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a 3% chance of victory.
Weather: Sunny and 72 degrees with no chance of rain (via Covers).
Prediction: TeamRankings projects a 44-14 victory for Alabama. numberFire has the Tide winning 38-13.