The Kentucky Wildcats (3-4) are in for quite the challenge Saturday as they’ll travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0).
Alabama enters Saturday’s contest as the nation’s top-ranked team and a perfect 6-0 as Nick Saban’s team continues to redeem themselves after missing out on the College Football Playoff in 2019 for the first time since its’ launch in 2009. Meanwhile, UK enters play 3-4 but allowed 35 points to a winless Vanderbilt team at home last week.
Unsurprisingly, Alabama has owned the all-time series between the two programs as they hold a 37-2-1 all-time series lead over Kentucky, with the last UK win coming in 1997. The Wildcats have never won in Tuscaloosa as both their 1922 and 1997 victories over the Tide coming in Lexington.
Since Mark Stoops took over as UK head coach in 2013, the Cats are 0-2 against Alabama with losses in 2013 and 2016. Meanwhile, Alabama is 3-0 against the Cats since Nick Saban took over as their head coach in 2007.
Can the Cats pull off the biggest upset of the 2020 College Football season? Here’s a preview of Saturday’s matchup between the Cats and Crimson Tide.
Former UK commit for Heisman?
When four-star quarterback Mac Jones committed to the Kentucky Wildcats on July 27, 2015, no one ever could’ve imagined he’d be a Heisman Trophy front-runner, let alone the signal-caller for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jones de-committed from UK on June 7 of 2016 and committed to Saban in the Crimson Tide on the same day. Last season, he was forced into action when eventual first round NFL Draft pick Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending injury. While Jones performed well, no one imagined what he has become in 2020.
Through six games, Jones ranks eighth in the nation with 2,196 passing yards, has thrown 16 touchdowns, just two interceptions, has completed 78.5% of his passes and has posted a 95.6 QBR, which ranks second-best in college football.
While Jones has some of the nation’ best receivers to throw to in DeVonta Smith, John Metchie III and had projected Jaylen Waddle for four games prior to a season-ending injury, the former UK commit has made a name for himself as one of college football’s best quarterbacks and will likely be among the three finalists for the Heisman Trophy come December.
Mini Derrick Henry
Not only does Alabama’s offense feature a Heisman front-runner at quarterback and multiple star receivers, but they also have perhaps the best running back in the nation in Najee Harris.
Harris can best be described as a slightly smaller version of former Alabama running back, Heisman Trophy Winner and now Tennessee Titan Pro Bowler Derrick Henry. Harris is a 6-foot-2-inch, 229 pound back who tires out opposing defenses. That makes him just one inch and nine pounds lighter than Henry, who stands 6-foot-3-inches and 238 pounds.
The senior has run for 714 yards and 14 touchdowns in just six games so far this season while adding 20 catches for 183 yards. To put those numbers in perspective, Henry ran for 2,2219 yards, 28 touchdowns and made 11 catches for 91 yards in his Heisman Trophy-winning 2015 season.
Thus, Harris has already out gained Henry in the passing game and if he is able to play the maximum 14 games (10 regular season, SEC Championship Game, two CFB Playoff Games), he’d be on pace to finish the season with 1,666 rushing yards and 32 touchdown runs putting him ahead of Henry’s Heisman Trophy winning season in two out of three major statistical categories.
A work in progress on defense
While Alabama’s offense has emerged as perhaps the best in the nation, their defense has had its struggles this season. Led by defensive coordinator Pete Golding, the Crimson Tide defense ranks 47th in the nation as they’ve allowed an average of 389.2 yards per game.
The defense’s biggest struggles have come against Ole Miss, who scored 49 on the Tide and Georgia, who put up 24 first-half points despite starting walk-on Stetson Bennett at quarterback.
However, of late, Alabama’s defense has begun to take steps forward as they shut out Mississippi State in their last game and held Tennessee to just seven second half points before that.
Despite having several players who will likely be drafted either in 2021 or future NFL Drafts, the Tide does not have a player with more than two sacks (Christopher Allen and Christian Barmore) and has grabbed just seven picks as oppose to a Kentucky defense that has made 11 interceptions.
Last week’s 38-35 UK win over Vanderbilt made one thing clear for the Wildcats: this is Terry Wilson‘s team. After missing Kentucky’s loss to Georgia with a wrist injury, Kentucky’s senior quarterback returned last week and was tremendous.
Wilson completed 13-15 of his passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns while adding 83 yards on the ground with a 32-yard touchdown run.
While Joey Gatewood showed some potential against Georgia, and Beau Allen entered last weekend’s win over Vanderbilt and threw three perfect passes, the 2020 Wildcats are Wilson’s team and he has earned the right to be their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.
What defense will show up?
Kentucky’s defense this season has been like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
In their first two games, UK allowed a combined 71 points and did not cause a single turnover against Auburn or Ole Miss. The following two weeks, they held Mississippi State and Tennessee to a combined nine points and caused 10 turnovers. They then struggled against Missouri but held Georgia to 14 points while causing two turnovers.
Then came winless Vanderbilt, who ran 80 plays against the UK defense, gaining 407 yards, converting 11-17 on third down, 2-2 with two touchdowns on fourth down and scored 35 points.
Thus, it’s impossible to predict which version of the UK defense will travel to Tuscaloosa Saturday, but they better hope it’ll be the good one as they take on the nation’s most dangerous offense.
Poore and Goodfellow
UK head coach Mark Stoops could not answer why either missed last week’s game against Vanderbilt, leading to speculation it could be caused to either a positive COVID-19 test or contact tracing.
Poore won SEC Special Teams’ Player of the Week honors with Ruffolo out last week as he was a perfect 5-5 on extra-points and kicked through a 28-yard field goal. Meanwhile, Goodfellow punted three times for an average of 46.3 yards, including a 51-yard boot.
Kentucky is no longer a program that is the laughing stock of the SEC that would be expected to lose 59-0 when having to play Alabama. However, they’re in the midst of a rough season while the Crimson Tide have one of their best teams’ of the Saban era that has already delivered five national championships. Thus, look for a big Alabama win Saturday but for UK to at least put up a fight.