Saban sees Stoops-led Wildcats as formidable foe
Of course, first-year Wildcats coach Mark Stoops — armed with a well-known football coaching pedigree — was brought in to change all that. Kentucky football will probably never be what Kentucky basketball is, but Kentucky is counting on Stoops, who served as Florida State’s defensive coordinator the last three years, at least steering the football program back in the right direction after some lean years.
So what does Kentucky look like five games into the 2013 season? Well, much like it has the past few years — at first glance anyway. The Wildcats are 1-4 with its only win coming against Miami of Ohio (41-7). The four losses have come at the hands of Western Kentucky (35-26), Louisville (27-13), Florida (24-7) and, most recently, South Carolina (35-28).
While many so-called experts have already chalked up a ‘W’ for undefeated and top-rankedAlabama this Saturday, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who’s looked much deeper into the various elements of this 2013 Kentucky squad, sees things much differently. He sees a foe quite capable of doing exactly what the Kentucky basketball team does so well — win big games. And, for Kentucky, no game this season is bigger than the one this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. “Alabama has the respect that they deserve for being the No. 1 team in the country and being the No. 1 program in the country for a long time now, for many years,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday. “I think our team understands the challenge that lies ahead.” Saban hopes his team does too.
“I think Kentucky is really playing well as a team,” Saban said. “Sometimes you look at the won-loss column, and it’s a little deceiving. These guys have played three good football teams in a row and played them all tough, played them all well. Typically, they’ve given us tough games the last two times we’ve played them. Mark has done a really good job there, I think. “The players are playing hard and they play with a lot of toughness. They’re really good on special teams, which, to me, sometimes shows the character and attitude of your team as much as anything.” Kentucky has two capable quarterbacks in the form of dual-threat athlete Jalen Whitlow, who’s been seeing the bulk of the snaps of late, and Maxwell Smith. Whitlow, a Prattville, Ala., product, has thrown for 499 yards and three TDs while Smith has passed for 634 yards and four touchdowns. Whitlow also adds a running dimension to the QB position that Smith does not, having rushed for a team-high 238 yards this season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. “The things (Whitlow) showed us through spring and through summer camp was that he gave us a better ability to create big plays, whether that be extending plays with his legs, whether that be quarterback run plays and then just running our offense,” Stoops said. “I think he gave us the ability to move our offense and have bigger plays. “As I’ve said many times with all of our quarterbacks, they’ve been very sharp at times and they’ve been inconsistent at times. So we’re working on that.”Kentucky ranks ninth in the SEC in total defense, yielding 391.2 yards per game.
“Defensively, they have played better and better and better as the season has gone on,” Saban said. “They played a lot of 4-3 early, and they’re playing a lot more 3-4 in the last three games. They seem to be a pretty good, solid defensive team.”Kentucky football may not be Kentucky basketball in terms of being one of the country’s big boys. But it’s clear this Kentucky team is no runt either — and it’ll have Alabama at its place. “We expect this to be a difficult game,” Saban said. “I think our players need to prepare for this team with a lot of respect, and I think our players understand how difficult it is to play on the road in our league.”
Kickoff for the Alabama-Kentucky game is set for 6 p.m. CDT. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
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