Mark Stoops: We're capable of so much more
Kentucky struck first on Saturday night, but top-ranked Alabama did much of the punching after that, pummeling the Cats 34-6.
On homecoming night in front of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama racked up 488 yards and held the Cats to 161 yards.
Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for 262 yards, including two touchdown passes, both to Calvin Ridley in the victory, Alabama’s 17th in a row overall.
Coach Nick Saban challenged his team, which was held to its fewest points of the season, to step up at halftime and the defending national champs answered the bell.
“I was pleased with the way our guys came out in the second half and played,” the Alabama coach said. “I didn’t think we imposed our will in the first half like we could’ve or should’ve or wanted to.
“All in all, I think that it’s a good win for us. I knew this would be a tough game. … Kentucky has got a much better team than than what everybody gives them credit for.”
The game didn’t look like it would be so lopsided in the opening minutes.
Kentucky’s defense got the stop on fourth-and-6 to start the game when an Alabama receiver dropped an open pass in the middle of the field.
And after slow starts in its first four games, the UK offense got an immediate first down on a Boom Williams run up the gut of the Tide defense and managed to strike first, 3-0, on a 45-yard field goal from Alabama native Austin MacGinnis.
Kentucky (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) had an opportunity to supplement its lead after a Hurts fumble was picked up by De’Niro Laster. But Stephen Johnson had a fumble of his own a few plays later (UK’s 13th miscue of the season).
After a Hurts fumble was picked up by De’Niro Laster, UK had a chance to go up a few more points, but Stephen Johnson got sacked and fumbled (UK’s 13th turnover of the season).
The Crimson Tide answered with a 44-yard field goal of their own after UK got pressure on Hurts again and tied it up 3-3 with a minute to go in the first quarter.
Against the constant, unrelenting pressure of Alabama, the junior college transfer struggled, completing just 13 of 22 passes for 89 yards. He fumbled the ball three times, losing two of them.
“I was trying to make something happen, didn't hold the ball like I should've,” said the quarterback, making his first career road start. “It ended up coming out those three times, actually, so that's something I need to work on for sure this upcoming week.”
Later, Alabama (5-0, 2-0) went back to what Alabama does best: run right over people.
The Tide did just that, going up 10-3 on a drive of seven straight runs for 61 yards that led to a Joshua Jacobs 1-yard score.
Kentucky’s Johnson fumbled again midway through the second quarter, and Alabama didn’t wait to capitalize, with Ronnie Harrison taking it back 55 yards for the score. It was Alabama’s seventh non-offensive touchdown in five games.
“You’ve got to make quick decisions and you certainly need to protect the ball,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said. “We talked about it all week about how many touchdowns they score non-offensively. And at that point we were actually hanging in the game, playing some good defense and you can’t turn it over.”
There was an opportunity for Alabama to go up 20-3 after a 14-play, 62-yard drive, but Crimson Tide kicker Adam Griffith missed from 35 yards out.
After so much success on its first drive, gaining 36 yards and scoring, Kentucky struggled from there, managing just 38 yards on the next six possessions before the half.
The Cats were outgained 217-74 in the first half, including a 128-19 discrepancy on the ground.
It got uglier from there with Alabama’s Hurts finding Ridley for back-to-back long passes, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the Tide a 24-3 advantage. The sophomore star had career bests of 11 catches for 174 yards.
Kentucky was able to move the ball some in the fourth quarter, mostly behind Jojo Kemp taking direct snaps and rushing them up the middle.
It helped key a late surge for the UK offense that ended in a 30-yard field goal for MacGinnis and put the Cats over 150 yards of offense for the game, which meant the Florida loss will remain Kentucky’s worst showing of the season (149 yards of total offense).
Jacobs led Alabama with 16 carries for 100 yards and caught three passes for 44 more yards. Former Madison Southern star Damien Harris, who was battling an ankle injury, had just two carries for 11 yards in the win. Hurts had nine carries for 25 yards.
Kentucky, which was led by safety Mike Edwards’ career-high tying 12 tackles, goes back to work this week with Vanderbilt on Saturday before a week off.
“I felt like we did some better things in this game, and the bad thing is we’re still capable of so much more and that’s what aggravates you,” Stoops said.
“I definitely felt like we grew. We’ve been talking about improvement and growing as a team. I think we did that in certain phases and maybe took a step back in others, but we’ll keep on working. That’s a quality football team in a hostile environment.”
▪ Two key Kentucky players wide out Dorian Baker (hamstring) and left tackle Cole Mosier (ankle) did not make the trip. … Defensive end Alvonte Bell also did not make the trip, but a UK spokesman did not confirm why.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
4 p.m. Saturday (SEC)