Cats relish chance to stop Tide

ccosby@herald-leader.comOctober 2, 2008 

Not many defensive coordinators would be looking forward to facing an offense that hung 34 points on Clemson and 41 on Georgia.

But Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown says he's anxious to get a litmus test for his unit, which has some of the country's best numbers through four games.

"Really, the first four games, I was nervous because I really didn't know how we would play," Brown said. "But I'm very pleased with how we've played so far, and now I'm excited. Now it's time to get into the league and see what we're made of. Alabama presents a great, great challenge. They run the ball, they're very physical, and then they can turn around and throw the ball very well. It's going to be interesting to see what happens."

The Kentucky players are looking forward to facing a more traditional scheme after spending the past three games defending spread offenses. While UK stuffed the spread offenses of Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, they've fared better in the Brooks regime against teams that use conventional, pro-style packages.

The Crimson Tide line up with a tailback, fullback, tight end and two receivers and play off their power running game.

"That plays right into everything we want to do," UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon said. "We don't really like playing the teams that air it out and go with five wide receivers. They're going to come out and try and hit us in the mouth, and that's the kind of football we like."

Alabama's offense will allow UK to use its 4-3 alignment more than in the past few weeks, when the Cats spent a good portion of the game lined up in the nickel package (five defensive backs). That suits outside linebacker Johnny Williams just fine, as Williams often has to either come out of the game or move up to defensive end in the nickel.

"This will be more of a linebacker's game," Williams said. "They're going to line up and try and run it right at us, and we have to be ready to step in there and make plays. We're looking forward to it."

Like Brown said, the Crimson Tide offense has been doing everything well so far. Alabama boasts the Southeastern Conference's best running game, averaging 215.2 yards with a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns. It has depth at tailback and one of the country's best offensive linemen in left tackle Andre Smith.

The passing game hasn't been statistically dominant, but quarterback John Parker Wilson has been efficient in throwing for 747 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. Julio Jones has lived up to the hype as the nation's top incoming freshman receiver with 16 grabs for 226 yards and four scores.

Wilson became Alabama's all-time leading passer against Georgia and finished 13-for-16 for 205 yards and a touchdown.

"He's a senior who's very experienced, and he had an unbelievable game against Georgia," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "He didn't have to throw it much, but when he did, they were big plays."

Thanks in large part to Smith, a 6-foot-4, 340-pounder who was a consensus preseason All-American, the Tide have also kept Wilson clean for the most part, allowing just six sacks in five games.

Jarmon, one of the SEC's top defensive ends, could find himself matched up with Smith on occasion.

"I know what guys on each team are highly touted, and you get fired up going up against them," Jarmon said. "He's a good player. He has flaws like everyone else, but he has the kind of determination that helps make up for any mistakes."

For the UK defensive line to go toe-to-toe with the Alabama offensive line, Brooks said his players must match Alabama's physicality and be sharp with their technique and footwork.

"You don't always win the physical match every snap but you've got to win a majority of them, and you certainly can't get whipped," Brooks said. "Either you have to win some of them or get some stalemates and lose very few of them. You have no chance when you're playing a talented, strong, technically sound football player if you don't use your own technique. You're in real trouble."

Brown said in order for the UK defense to get to this point, players had to replace the lingering doubts that existed in years past with brimming confidence.

"Our guys believe that they're good," Brown said. "Now they'll get a chance to go out and show what they can do against one of the best teams in the nation."

"I know what we're made of," Jarmon said. "We've been in some physical battles before. We're just going up against yet another offensive line that has been labeled one of the best, if not the best. Let's line up and see what happens. We feel good about it."

Johnson, Lumpkin, Cobb will travel to Alabama

Brooks said Wednesday that linebacker Micah Johnson, quarterback/wide receiver Randall Cobb and defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin will all make the trip for Saturday's game at Alabama.

The three players have been sidelined since the Middle Tennessee game with high ankle sprains.

Brooks said that Lumpkin's recovery has progressed the most, and that the three players made it through Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices without any major setbacks and could see action in the game.

If Cobb does play, Brooks said it would be as a backup quarterback to Mike Hartline, as his ankle isn't yet strong enough to make the necessary cuts to play wide receiver.

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