Alabama opened the night looking a bit like a team coming off a three week layoff, rather uninspired on both sides of the ball against an overmatched foe. After a close first quarter that could easily have left the Tide trailing in the game, however, they hit their stride and took care of business.
Kentucky has a stout offensive line, and they were able to exploit a weakness on the edges of the Alabama defense that continues to be a problem. Kentucky did an outstanding job using shifts and motion to confuse, but too often the issue is more physical in nature. Will Anderson and Christopher Allen have athleticism, but neither is terribly stout and both get swallowed up at times by good tackles. This is probably just going to be one of those things that we have to live with. Dylan Moses and Christian Harris were up and down again, mixing in some spectacular plays with some missed assignments. Playing linebacker in the college game against these RPO based teams is not easy.
The good news is that the pass defense was very good again, albeit against a mediocre offense. Kentucky QB Terry Wilson was held to only 120 yards on 19 attempts, and was baited into a pick six by Jordan Battle, who jumped a slant. Most of Kentucky’s success through the air came over the middle after spreading the defense out, often going five wide. There really is no answer to that as a defense other than playing a softer zone scheme and breaking on the ball well, unless of course you are able to get pressure with four. Josh Jobe did have one bonehead pass interference early in the game, on a ball that he could easily have intercepted. I’m not sure what he saw on that play, but it was strange the way he ran through the receiver with Battle in great position. In any case, the defense settled down for the most part after its early struggles and pitched a shutout after the first quarter.
Offensively, it was pretty much the same deal. The offensive line looked quite flat early in the game, and a spirited Kentucky front seven gave them all kinds of problems. Mac Jones came out of the gate throwing seeds as he has all season, but the run game was not terribly efficient in the first half. They too found their stride as the game went along, however, putting up seven offensive TDs in the last three quarters. Mac made two especially memorable throws through tight windows, the first on a fake screen wheel route where he fit the ball between two defenders and hit Jahleel Billingsley right in the hands to allow for a 34-yard catch-and-run. The other may have been his best throw of the season, when he got outside the pocket to extend the play before firing a dart to DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone.
Mac didn’t have a great third quarter, showing some visible frustration after an underthrown interception to Smith that could have easily been a touchdown with a better ball, but he did his damage in the first half and put the game out of reach. Of course, the run game with Najee Harris had something to do with that as well. Harris finished up with 13 carries for 83 yards and two TDs, including a spectacular 42-yard burst to go up 21-3. Najee also added two catches for 27 yards on the night, and Brian Robinson got six totes for 22 and a short score.
Bryce Young got to enter this one with about 20 minutes to play, and he looked outstanding on his two pass attempts, gaining 53 yards and a touchdown. He, too, fit a ball into a tight space for a touchdown to DeVonta Smith. That was a great throw, but the instincts for a young freshman were better. Billngsley was in the area as well, and when Young caught a defender leaning in his direction, he threw behind him to Smith with a perfect ball that absolutely had to be. It was an encouraging effort from the second team offense as a whole. Jase McClellan broke out in the first game without Trey Sanders, picking up 99 yards and a touchdown on only 10 carries. Roydell Williams got 10 carries as well, managing 30 yards and a score.
On special teams we got to see DeVonta Smith return a couple of punts, and he looked electric. Slade Bolden has been filling the role since Jaylen Waddle went down and has done fine, but he doesn’t have the gamebreaking ability of Smith. Still, I’d much rather save that for down the road and limit Smith’s exposure. Charlie Scott punted well on his two attempts, averaging 46 yards per, but did kick the ball into the end zone. Will Reichard made all nine extra points and didn’t attempt a field goal.
As I wrote last night, it’s tough to complain when you win by 60. You can forgive a bit of sloppiness in this strange, strange year. The road gets tougher next week as Auburn comes into town, but you have to believe that they will come out firing on all cylinders for that one. There are debts to be paid.