Kentucky might face more athletic quarterbacks this season.
Kentucky might face quarterbacks with bigger names this season.
But the Cats won't face another quarterback like Alabama senior A.J. McCarron.
"He's just your overall total package of a quarterback," Kentucky safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto said of McCarron. "It's everything you want in one right there. He proves it down after down. He proves it game after game. He's a guy we've got to play well against to have a chance."
McCarron probably won't win a Heisman Trophy for his efforts, but this summer at Southeastern Conference Media Days he said holding up that individual trophy means nothing to him.
It's because he knows he has a chance to become the first quarterback in the modern era to hoist three crystal footballs given to the national champion.
The Mobile native and three-year starter said he's heard the chatter about him simply being a "system quarterback."
He puts the talk on mute.
"I don't care what they say as long as we keep winning," he said in Hoover, Ala., in July.
In his three seasons as the top-ranked Crimson Tide's quarterback, he has gone 30-2 as a starter. His 93.8 winning percentage is a league record. McCarron has collected more championship rings (he also got one as a redshirt freshman) than losses.
"He seems very smart and very poised," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said of McCarron. "He does not seem to be rattled at all, and you can tell he's been in a lot of big games, so he's very comfortable back there and very talented."
When given time, which his offensive line seems to give him each and every game, McCarron dissects a defense. Last season, he threw 30 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
In his career, he's connected on 67.4 percent of his passes. He's improved that number so far this season, completing 71.4 percent. His 59 career touchdown passes are an Alabama record.
McCarron seems to be hitting his stride in time to face Kentucky, the third-best passing defense in the SEC. The Cats allow opponents to gain just 195 yards a game through the air, and UK's secondary has given up just four touchdowns this season.
In his last four games, McCarron has completed an astounding 77.7 percent of his passes for 938 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Teams have been denying him the deep ball lately, and it's only made him better, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said this week.
McCarron, who statistically throws a pick only every 74.2 attempts (the best in SEC history), doesn't force things.
"He's willing to have that kind of patience, make good choices and decisions about where he goes with the ball," Saban said. "He's done a really good job of making those choices and decisions, and it shows his efficiency and effectiveness as a quarterback."
At the same time, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Amari Cooper give McCarron a receiving corps with big-play ability.
"We have a lot of confidence in a lot of our receivers," Saban said. "We have some experience there and guys who have made explosive plays."
Defending McCarron, who has 550 career completions for more than 7,000 yards, will be a big challenge, especially for a young Kentucky secondary, cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said.
"It's a good chance to be on a big stage," he said. "A.J. is a guy who has been around, been in some battles, won some championships. He knows exactly where he's going with the ball. He's got good control of the offense."
"We've got to do a good job of being where we're supposed to be, looking at the right things," Ansley said.
Dupree still hurting
Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree has not practiced this week as he recovers from straining a pectoral muscle in the weight room last week.
"Has not practiced, so it doesn't look good," Stoops said Wednesday of the junior's chances of playing versus Alabama.
What is UK's contingency plan?
"Well, we're working on some things, but (Jason) Hatcher will get an amped-up role," Stoops said. "We're moving some guys around and getting the best options."
Hatcher is battling an injury as well — he broke a bone in his right hand and his knuckle last week against South Carolina. The freshman end likely will play with a large cast on his hand.
No. 1 Alabama at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Records: Alabama 5-0 (2-0 SEC); UK 1-4 (0-2)
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.