Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide get
back to conference action this weekend, as they hit the road to battle the
Kentucky Wildcats in an SEC matchup at Commonwealth Stadium.
The two-time defending champions stepped out of league play last week and made
light work of Georgia State, 45-3. It really hasn't mattered who the
competition has been in 2013. With the exception of a shootout with Texas A&M,
Nick Saban's squad has won four of its five games by 25 points or more.
Mark Stoops is in his first season at Kentucky. His tenure in Lexington has
gotten off to a slow start, as the Wildcats have won just once in their first
five games. That victory came in week 2, a 41-7 win over Miami-Ohio. The team
has lost three straight games since, although the last two have come against
nationally-ranked foes in Florida (24-7) and most recently, South Carolina
Kentucky has had very little success against Alabama all-time, with the
Crimson Tide winning 35 of the 38 meetings (35-2-1). Alabama has won four
straight matchups, including a 38-20 decision in the last meeting in 2009.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron wasn't needed long against Georgia State, but
left a lasting impression on the Panthers nonetheless, completing a ridiculous
15-of-16 passes, for 166 yards and four first-half touchdowns in UA's romp
McCarron is one of the nation's premier signal callers and has certainly not
disappointed in his last season in Tuscaloosa, completing an impressive 71.4
percent of his passes thus far, for 1,048 yards and 10 TDs. The Crimson Tide
still rely on the run (166.2 ypg) and have a talented workhorse in T.J. Yeldon
(445 yards, 6.2 ypc, 4 TDs), but McCarron has a deep and talented receiving
pool at his disposal and the Crimson Tide are more balanced as a result.
A number of receivers can make plays, led by Christion Jones (20 catches, 232
yards, 2 TDs) and DeAndrew White (15 catches, 212 yards, 3 TDs).
Despite all the yards and points the Crimson Tide allowed to Johnny Manziel
and the Aggies, the defensive numbers are still impressive. On the season,
Alabama ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.2 ppg) and 12th in
total defense (299.8 ypg). The team is extremely stingy against the run at a
mere 85.8 yards per game (sixth nationally)
Leading the charge is All-American and Butkus Award nominee C.J. Mosley. The
veteran linebacker paces the team in tackles (41), with 3.5 TFL. The secondary
took a hit with the recent suspension of HaHa Clinton-Dix (24 tackles), but
there is still quality depth in the defensive backfield, led by safety Vinnie
Sunseri (17 tackles, 2 INTS).
Mosley relishes his role as a veteran leader for Alabama.
"It all comes from experience and maturity. Coming in, I just wanted to lead
by example. I just do my part the older I get, and the more I learn this
defense. I'm one of the main senior leaders on this defense. I give feedback
to the younger guys. I have to teach them. I tell them I'm going to be gone
soon, so it will be up to them after that."
It will take some time for Stoops to turn Kentucky around, but there are
definitely signs of improvement, with the offense averaging 388.8 ypg. Balance
has been the key for the Wildcats, with 162.2 ypg on the ground and 226.6 ypg
through the air.
The quarterback position has been unsettled in the early stages, but may be
settling, as Jalen Whitlow is coming off a strong effort against South
Carolina, completing 17-of-24 passes, for 178 yards and two TDs, while rushing
for 69 yards and another score. A dual-threat that may be gaining confidence
as a passer, Whitlow also leads the Wildcats in rushing (238 yards, 3 TDs).
Javess Blue (22 catches, 275 yards, 1 TD) and Ryan Timmons (19 catches, 209
yards, 1 TD) are the top targets in the passing game.
The Wildcats have some weaknesses on defense that Alabama will attempt to
exploit. Kentucky is allowing 391.2 yards per game to the opposition and has
definitely struggled against the run, with foes averaging 196.2 yards per
game, on 4.7 yards per carry.
Senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson leads the Wildcats in total tackles
with 51 stops. Junior ends Alvin Dupree (28 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and
Za'Darius Smith (22 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) are a formidable duo coming
off the edges.
Stoops knows the challenge in front of him and his team this weekend.
"It's going to be difficult, it definitely is. There's so many good coaches
out there, but this group is really unbelievable in their preparation, very
well coached team. They do what they do extremely well and have plenty of
change ups off of it, and yeah, it will be a challenge, and again, very well
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