Time for another Q&A of an upcoming opponent. This week, Glenn Logan, the managing editor of A Sea of Blue, was kind enough to answer our questions.
1. Kentucky is on the back end of a pretty brutal four game slate that included Louisville, Florida, and South Carolina. What has been the takeaway from the season so far?
So far, I think we have mostly concluded that Mark Stoops was the right hire for Kentucky. Not only did he want to come here, but his recruiting has made a difference in the very first season, which you would normally not expect in major college football.
Stoops has also shown the kind of patience that it takes to develop players at the level which Kentucky recruits, and despite ratcheting that level up a notch, we are still only around the mid-pack in terms of talent, and most of that doesn't get here until next season.
Finally, we have seen our team become competitive again -- not in the sense of competing for championships or anything, but in giving even vastly superior teams a genuine test. One would hope that this would remain true about Alabama, although I don't have any confidence Kentucky could actually upset the Tide. But these tough games, as long as we get through mostly uninjured, could make the second half look like a bunch of FCS teams, and that may produce some better results.
2. In the past few years, even when Kentucky has struggled, there has been at least one player that stood out nationally (Randall Cobb comes to mind). Do you see a player like that on this team?
More than one, actually. Jojo Kemp looks very much like the kind of player we need to help us going forward, and Ryan Timmons has the kind of big-play ability that Cobb possessed, although he is less versatile.
3. How has Mark Stoops impacted the program so far? What type of offense/defense did he install? What's the general opinion of Stoops at this point?
Two weeks ago, I would have said his main impact has been on the recruiting trail, where he has Kentucky at an unprecedented, historic level for this program. But in the last two games, he has shown us that he can coach as well, having gotten more out of this team than many thought possible.
Defensively, Stoops runs a 4-3 base, the really standard college defense. But he has been way more multiple out of that base lineup than we were led to believe, using the 3-4 much more often than we expected. His tendency, though, has been to leave the 3-4 "heavy"; instead of bringing in a safety-like player, he tends to move our versatile defensive ends into more of a hybrid linebacker role.
Kentucky mostly runs the cover-2 in the backfield on passing downs, and is fairly conservative with blitzes owing to our quality defensive ends, who have done a reasonably good job getting pressure on quarterbacks -- with the notable exception of Connor Shaw last week. Someone commented in this weeks SEC Power Poll that Shaw was criminally underrated, and I'd be the first to agree. He's far too mobile to bull rush, and when our ends lost containment against him in Columbia, he killed us.
Offensively, Kentucky is nominally an Air Raid team, but Stoops & Co. have settled on Jalen Whitlow as the quarterback this season. Whitlow is simply not an Air Raid quarterback -- he doesn't throw the ball accurately enough, or have enough confidence yet to throw on most downs.
So what Neal Brown, our offensive coordinator, has done is institute what is essentially a read option attack in the style of Urban Meyer out of Air Raid formations. Last week, it worked pretty well, and as time goes on, it may work really well. As they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
The overall opinion of the Big Blue Nation right now is that Stoops is doing great, and even though we expected to suck this year, we are sucking rather less than we thought. But he has us really excited for the future.
4. Who are a couple players that Bama fans may not be aware of that they should keep an eye out for?
Defensively, Jason Hatcher at weak side defensive end. Hatcher is a true freshman out of Louisville Trinity High who was one of the highest-rated players in the Commonwealth last season. Bud Dupree, our starter, is looking doubtful for Saturday due to a muscle strain, so Hatcher is likely to start. He has been doing very good things out there for a true freshman, and gets better every game.
Offensively, freshman slot receiver Ryan Timmons is one to watch. He is super athletic, but small, and has burner speed. When he gets the ball in space, it's trouble for the opponent.
5. Are there any matchups (either individual or unit) that you think favor Kentucky?
Against Alabama? Hah! As if.
If we do anything at all against the Tide, it won't have a thing to do with individuals -- it has to be a team effort. Kentucky is less talented at every position that the Crimson Tide's second team.
We do have some nice players -- Za'Darius Smith at defensive end, Darian Miller at left tackle (although he's had some adjustment issues), the aforementioned Timmons and Hatcher along with Javess Blue at wide receiver on the outside. Whitlow at QB can be a problem if you leave seven in the box, because he can really run the ball, and throws it well enough that you have to respect that threat.
Finally, a shout out to our special teams, which have been outstanding. Former LSU assistant Bradley Dale Peveto has them playing better than at any time since Cobb & Co.
6. What are your expectations for this game? What's your predicted final score?
Our expectations are to be defeated convincingly. That's just reality. We will passionately cheer on the boys, but upsetting the #1 team in college football this year is only a dream. This is not 2007, and Alabama is not LSU.
What we hope for is to give Alabama fits, and put at least two touchdowns on the board. If we get flattened 35-17 or something similar, most of us would consider it as close to a success as we are likely to get. Personally, I just want to see our guys compete and try to win. Achieving that victory is likely to exceed our grasp by a substantial margin. Alabama is just too talented and experienced, and the gap is very wide.
The score will probably be something like 35-7, but I'm hoping for better than that.