How Kentucky and Alabama match up at every position — with a game prediction:
Stephen Johnson II became the eighth UK QB out of the last nine to win his first start by guiding the Wildcats past South Carolina last week. Since replacing an injured Drew Barker on the second possession against New Mexico State, the 6-foot-3, 183-pound junior-college transfer has performed capably (28-of-41 passing for 445 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 interception). Alabama, though, is a major step up in class. Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts has given the Crimson Tide offense a new weapon with his running ability. The 6-2, 209-pound product of Channelview, Texas, has run for 251 yards and three TDs. He’s been effective through the air, too, throwing for 727 yards and five TDs while completing 62.8 percent of his throws.
Over the past two weeks, Kentucky junior Boom Williams and true freshmen Benny Snell have emerged as a potent one-two punch. The dynamic 5-9, 196-pound Williams hung 181 yards on New Mexico State, then came back with 123 yards vs. South Carolina. A 5-11, 220-pound battering ram, Snell rumbled for 136 yards and four TDs vs. NMSU, then came back with 71 yards and the game-winning TD against South Carolina. Alabama’s Damien Harris, the former Madison Southern star, was off to a strong start (327 yards in first three games) before leaving last week’s win over Kent State after four carries (18 yards) with a sprained ankle. In his absence, true freshman Joshua Jacobs ran for 97 yards and two TDs vs. the Golden Flashes.
Kentucky junior Garrett Johnson caught a team-high four passes vs. South Carolina and leads the Wildcats on the season in receptions (13). Former Franklin County star Ryan Timmons has caught six passes in the past two games. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley (20 catches, 224 yards) is one of the top receivers in the country. He had nine catches for 129 yards in Bama’s early-season win over WKU. Ardarius Stewart (13 catches, 205 yards, three TDs) has been a big-play complement to Ridley.
After C.J. Conrad enjoyed a huge game (five catches, 133 yards, three TDs) vs. New Mexico State, the UK sophomore had only one catch for 8 yards against South Carolina. Alabama’s O.J. Howard caught two TD passes against Clemson in last season’s national championship game. This season, the 6-6, 251-pound senior has 10 catches for 152 yards.
The veteran middle of the Kentucky offensive line — senior center Jon Toth and junior guards Nick Haynes and Ramsey Meyers — will get a massive test against Alabama’s powerful defensive front. Alabama freshman right tackle Jonah Williams graded out at a team-best 86 percent vs. Kent State and had four knock-down blocks.
Kentucky junior nose guard Matt Elam played the best football of his UK career against South Carolina, Mark Stoops said. “He was disruptive,” the UK coach said. Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen has four QB hurries, three sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Kentucky sophomore WLB Jordan Jones continues to lead the SEC in tackles (43). True freshman Kash Daniel, Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Football from Paintsville High School, got some reps last week at MLB behind starter Courtney Love. Alabama’s linebacking corps is among the nation’s best. WLB Reuben Foster, a senior from Auburn, Ala., has a team-high 29 tackles. SLB Ryan Anderson is tied for the team lead with three QB sacks.
Kentucky sophomore cornerback Derrick Baity had two pass breakups and five tackles in the win over South Carolina. Sophomore Chris Westry had a highlight-reel play against the Gamecocks when he slammed Hayden Hurst to the ground after the South Carolina tight end tried to hurdle the 6-4 corner. Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick had 1.5 QB sacks vs. Kent State. CB Marlon Humphrey and SS Eddie Jackson have each already returned a pick for six this season.
Kentucky place-kicker Austin MacGinnis hit his first field goal (30 yards) of the season last week. Mark Stoops has bragged about UK’s kickoff teams and, in this week’s SEC standings, the Cats rank ahead of Alabama in both kickoff coverage (UK third, Bama seventh) and returns (UK fourth, Bama sixth). Alabama place-kicker Adam Griffith is 6-of-8 on field goal tries (long of 48 yards); punter JK Scott is averaging 44.6 yards a kick. Nick Saban’s special teams have already returned two punts for TDs this year, Eddie Jackson (85 yards vs. Mississippi) and Xavian Marks (75 against Kent State).
Alabama 52, Kentucky 10.