LEXINGTON – University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said “it’s hard to see a weakness” in the Alabama defense, while offensively, Stoops said the Crimson Tide “can move the ball however they need to.”
In other words, the challenge will be formidable for the Wildcats when they clash with top-ranked Alabama Saturday night at 7 in Commonwealth Stadium.
The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Kentucky comes in 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference, while Alabama is 5-0 and 2-0.
Coach Nick Saban’s Alabama team, winners of the national title three of the past four years, ranks No. 2 in the SEC in total defense, giving up 299 yards per game. Only Florida, at 217 yards per game, is playing defense any better, statistically.
On offense, the Tide ranks just eighth in the conference, but Alabama is still rolling up 404.6 yards per game.
The Alabama defense has been vulnerable just once this season, in a 49-42 win at Texas A&M Sept. 14.
“In that game, you have to give a lot of credit to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel,” Stoops said. “I’ve been watching Alabama for a very long time, and they don’t do that very often. I see the same old Alabama defense right now. They’re very good.”
Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley came into this season with a lot of hype, and the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder has lived up to it, leading the Crimson Tide in tackles with 41.
“I’ve watched them a lot this summer and through their games in the early part of the season, and anything that’s successful against their defense is only successful once,” said UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown. “It’s not repeated. They do a great job not only in their game planning, but also, during the game, of correcting things.”
Brown said junior defensive back Vinnie Sunseri anchors the Tide’s secondary. Mosley does the same for the Alabama linebackers, and the Tide’s defensive front, Brown said, “is deep and big.
“They do as good a job as anybody in the country getting their hands on the O-line and really controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Offensively, senior quarterback AJ McCarron has been his usual, steady self, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, 90 of 126, for 209.5 yards per game.
Sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon of Alabama is sixth in the SEC in yards gained at 89 yards per game.
Junior wide receiver Christian Jones came into the season with national acclaim, and he leads the Crimson Tide in receptions, but at just four catches per game.
“Honestly they just seem to be able to do what they want to do,” Stoops said of the Alabama offense. “If they need to score a bunch of points, they score a bunch of points. If they need to run the ball, they run the ball. They’re very efficient with everything they do.’’
Alabama is coming off a 45-3 win over one of the worst teams in Division I, Georgia State, while Kentucky is coming off a 35-28 loss at South Carolina.
The loss at USC was typical of Kentucky’s season so far. The Wildcats have had stretches, especially late in games, where they look like a threat to the big boys in the SEC. And then there are equally long stretches, especially early in game, where it looks like Joker Phillips is still the head coach.
Stoops said his team is struggling to find consistency pretty much in all areas, which is typical of a young team.
“It’s about us and our execution,” Stoops said when asked what he tells his team about attacking Alabama. “We’re going out there to compete and play. It’s about putting one good play out there and then another. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We can control the things we can control, and we can execute better than we have been.”
Stoops said progress is being made on the execution front, but not as quickly as he’d like.
He cited Wednesday’s practice as an example.
“Today we did some good things offensively during a third down period when we were really trying to make that a point of emphasis,” Stoops said. “Then on some of the day- to-day things, we weren’t as good as they need to be.
“So those are all of the things that we’re fighting.”
Saturday’s game marks exactly six years since the last time Kentucky beat a No. 1 team. On Oct. 13, 2007, the Wildcats beat then No. 1 LSU, 43-37, in three overtimes.
Fans wishing to participate in the “Cat Walk” Saturday, greeting the players as they enter Commonwealth Stadium, should be at Gate 1 of the stadium at approximately 4:45 p.m. Fans are encouraged to listen to the air raid sirens, alerting them that the Wildcats are on their way to the stadium.