Courtesy of Alabama Athletics
The wait is now over. Alabama football returned in style, trouncing the Kentucky Wildcats 63 to 3. An all-around game on offense, defense and special teams led to the Wildcats’ demise.
The game went how most expected. But after not playing in nearly three weeks, the Crimson Tide needed this matchup to get ready for top-25 Auburn.
The offense had an overall successful night. Junior quarterback Mac Jones took shots down the field on almost every offensive drive he took part in. Although he couldn’t connect with a lot of his passes and threw an interception, he and the Alabama wide receivers still managed to add to their already electric chemistry. Jones completed his 16 passes to five different receivers over the course of the night for a total of 230 yards and two touchdowns.
There wasn’t a stand-alone player of the game for the offense. Senior running back Najee Harris finished the night with 110 total yards and two rushing touchdowns, bringing his total to 16. This is the most rushing touchdowns by any SEC running back in the first seven games of the season. Harris also broke the game open with a 43-yard run straight into the endzone. Both he and senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith had career nights and credited each other during the post-game press conference.
“Without Najee, there is no passing game,” Smith said. “Without the offensive line, there’s no passing game.”
To both Smith and Harris, senior offensive lineman Landon Dickerson sustains the offense’s drive.
“I feel like we most definitely feed off of it, just having [Dickerson] out there,” Smith said. “He’s the main person on this offense, no play starts without him.”
Coach Nick Saban said earlier in the week at a press conference that Kentucky provided Alabama with a good look on defense and that the team’s preparation was as important as it’s always been.
“I think Mark Stoops has done a really good job at Kentucky,” Saban said. “They have a good team. They have 15 starters coming back from last year’s team. They’re I think first in pass defense in the SEC. They’re second in rushing. They run the ball really effectively. They have really good running backs. The quarterback is very athletic and can run. They create a lot of quarterback run issues for you.”
A Dual Threat
The defense’s main focus was to stop Kentucky dual-threat quarterback Terry Wilson. Coming into the game, Wilson had over 700 yards in the air and 300 on the ground.
“When the quarterback can run it makes it like [the Wildcat formation],” Saban said. “There’s always an extra gap because you don’t really account for the quarterback in most basic things that you do on defense. So they do a good job of formations, they make you make a lot of adjustments. You have to stay gap sound in everything you do and you have to have enough guys in the box to account for the quarterback.”
After a slow start to the game, the Alabama defense was able to recover and pitch a shutout for the next three quarters. Wilson was held to just 120 yards passing and five yards rushing throughout the game. He was eventually replaced by Auburn transfer quarterback Joey Gatewood, who continued the share of offensive struggles.
Once the defense settled down, the game plan came easy to Alabama players, especially sophomore defensive back Jordan Battle. Battle played aggressively throughout the night and his effort was rewarded in the third quarter with a pick-six that sealed the deal for the Crimson Tide and led to the starters being taken out of the game two drives later.
“You know, earlier, I had missed [the interception],” Battle said. “I ran the wrong call [on that same play] and then [later in the game] I came down on my hook and saw the RPO, and I broke on it and I [scored] it after that.”
Coming off back-to-back bye weeks after the LSU game was postponed, Saban said players were ready to play last week, but that their safety was far more important. But Saban wasn’t thrilled about having two weeks off.
“There’s plusses and minuses,” Saban said. “We had a bye week, so we were ready to play. I think the players want to play. I think they want to create value in terms of how they improve as a team. I think there’s also a lot of individual players that want to create value for themselves.”
Even though the Crimson Tide has only played seven games, the regular season is going into December for the first time in Saban’s career at Alabama. The team returned to campus to train at the beginning of June, so the elongated season is wearing on the players physically, Saban said.
“These add-ons – if we were in a normal season, this would be the 11th week of the season,” Saban said. “So we’ve practiced just about as much as it would have been if we were in the 11th game of the season. So I think physically we’ve been able to take care of our players. I think psychologically is the real challenge for them to be able to stay focused on the things they need to do to continue to improve and to play at a high level, especially when we’re basically halfway through the season.”