John Clay

Toppers debate: 'New Kentucky' vs. 'old Alabama'

Two weeks ago, Western Kentucky's football team traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and was rolled 41-7 by the Crimson Tide.

Saturday night, Western Kentucky's football team traveled to Commonwealth Stadium and was rolled 41-3 by Kentucky.

Next Saturday, 3:30 p.m., before the CBS cameras, Kentucky travels to Alabama.

Who better to compare and contrast than the Toppers.

"They're both really good on defense," said Western Kentucky Coach Dave Elson after his team had dropped to 2-3. "I'd say points are going to be hard to come by."

Just ask Georgia, if the bruised, battered and black-shirted Bulldogs are able to speak after falling behind an amazing 31-0 by halftime, on their home turf, before finally losing 41-30 to Nick Saban's squad Saturday night in Athens.

"Yeah, I was fairly surprised by that score," said UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. "I guess the black-out didn't have much effect."

But here's something else that might surprise you.

Question: Do the Cats match up athletically with the Crimson Tide?

Answer: "Absolutely," Elson said. "I think (Marcus) McClinton is as good a safety as there is out there. Braxton Kelley is a heck of a player. Their defensive front is very good, but Alabama's offensive line is awfully good, too. But I think absolutely they match up athletically."

In the interest of full disclosure, not all of Elson's players agreed. After rushing for 99 yards on nine carries, and returning a kickoff 74 yards, redshirt freshman running back Bobby Rainey was not as impressed with the Cats as his head coach.

"They don't match up," declared Rainey. "I think Alabama is bigger and faster. I think Kentucky is softer up front. When we played them, Alabama treated it like a real game. Kentucky treated it more like a pre-season game."

Hard to imagine what the final score would have been had Kentucky been trying.

But there is one point to what Rainey said. In a way, this was Kentucky's pre-season, the first quarter of the season, the four non-conference games that lead into league play.

The Cats did what they needed to do, i.e. going 4-0. But the league, and Alabama, is a completely different barrel of sharks.

"Alabama is getting back to being the old Alabama," said McClinton.

A few feet away, however, was teammate Jarmon saying that this is the "new Kentucky," that past UK teams, the on-probation Cats, would not have boasted the depth to lose a middle linebacker like Micah Johnson and a defensive tackle like Ricky Lumpkin to ankle injuries and still keep any team out of the end zone.

"You hold any team to 15 yards passing, that's pretty good. I don't care who it is," said Jarmon.

"They're really good," said Elson. "Myron Pryor and Corey Peters, those are some pretty stout defensive tackles on the line. And Jeremy Jarmon was as good as advertised. They're solid right down the middle, and they're fast."

Hence, Elson's appraisal that the Cats can go toe-to-toe with the Tide, at least physically.

"But I don't think it's necessarily matching up athletically that's going to decide the game," said McClinton. "I think it's all about executing."

So far, Kentucky has been executing at a level high enough to go 4-0.

Starting next Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, however, it must execute at another level.

"If we practice like we practiced this week, and do the things we're supposed to do when we go down there," said Jarmon, "I think we'll be fairly happy with our performance."