Top-ranked Tide shakes off miscue-filled start to thump Wildcats
After one quarter of play Saturday night in Lexington, Ky., it sure looked like No. 1 Alabama was intent on capping off Upset Saturday in college football by becoming the most unlikely upset victim of all.
Then the second quarter arrived. And along with it the real Alabama.
As most everyone expected, the unbeaten Crimson Tide (6-0 overall, 3-0 in SEC) did indeed roll over a rebuilding Kentucky squad (1-5, 0-3) to the tune of 48-7 at Commonwealth Stadium, but it was the way the Tide started the game — with miscue after miscue — that had people scratching their heads. Especially in light of what had already occurred on this day and what was occurring. Oklahoma and Georgia were upset victims earlier in the afternoon, and Stanford and Michigan fell to underdogs during Alabama’s game.
But this Alabama squad is not Oklahoma, Georgia, Stanford or Michigan. And it’s definitely not the Alabama team of 1997 that got upset by Kentucky. AJ McCarron, Alabama’s steady-as-a-rock, ever-poised force on offense, refused to get rattled with the offense’s shaky start — which included two red-zone fumbles by Bama running backs and a dropped pass on third down — and simply kept chipping away at the Kentucky defense until good things started happening.
And in the second quarter they did. Even with the continuation of dropped passes, which became sort of the theme for the night.
“If you want to be the best, you can’t be satisfied with that, so there are some things we definitely need to improve on,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of his team’s uncharacteristic mistakes Saturday.
Alabama was able to move the ball on Kentucky all night — as evidenced by its 668 yards of total offense — but it wasn’t until the second quarter that the Tide finally started finishing drives in positive fashion. First came a Cade Foster field goal, then a Kenyon Drake 1-yard TD run, followed by a 24-yard T.J. Yeldon run and then another 1-yard TD run by Drake.
That made it 24-0 Bama at the half. Plenty enough points to scratch Bama’s name off the upset alert list on this day.
“We’ve got some work to do still, but at the same time our offense and defense did great,” McCarron said. “Our offense wanted to come out and basically create an identity for ourselves.”
The only question remaining after halftime was if the Tide D would be able to continue its streak of not allowing a touchdown. Texas A&M was the last team to find the end zone against Alabama, and that was way back on Sept. 14. The Alabama stop troops once again played well — holding the Wildcats, who saw their starting QB Jalen Whitlow go down to injury in the first quarter, to a mere 170 yards of total offense. But keeping them out of the end zone proved too much to ask. Kentucky backup QB Maxwell Smith threw a 30-yard TD pass to Javess Blue with 7:05 left in the third quarter to snap Bama’s streak.
Of course, that wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with the Tide, which got second-half TD runs by Yeldon and Altee Tenpenny as well as a TD pass from McCarron to Kevin Norwood and another Foster field goal to really blow the game open and allow reserve players to log more game minutes in the final stanza.
“I was really proud of the way we dominated the line of scrimmage,” Saban said. “Offensively, AJ had a really good game. We made a lot of plays. We made a lot of explosive plays. Everybody has to be accountable to do their role so we can be the best team we can be. I think we’re a better team now than we were (before the game). We’re making improvements, but I still think there are things we need to continue to work on.”
The win was Alabama’s 17th in a row away from Bryant-Denny Stadium with its last away-from-home loss coming to LSU in 2010. That’s the longest active road win streak in the FBS.
McCarron finished the night 21-of-35 for 359 yards and the one TD pass, while both Yeldon (124 yards) and Drake (106 yards) each eclipsed the century mark in rushing yardage. It marked the first time in school history Alabama had a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard rushers in the same game.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley paced the Bama D with a team-high seven tackles. It’s a Bama D that’s been performing well of late despite a lack of continuity personnel-wise.
“We’ve had a lot of missing parts, and we’ve had to move guys around a lot, but we think the players have done a good job adapting each week,” Saban said of the defense. “I think we’ve started three or four different guys at corner. In the front seven, we’ve had a couple guys get injured, so every guy that has had to step up and play for us has done a really good job.
“I think C.J. Mosley has done a fantastic job of being a leader. That has really made a big difference in our development and how players work in practice. I still think we have a long way to go.”
Alabama will host Arkansas next week. No. 14 South Carolina pounded the Razorbacks 52-7 on Saturday.
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