Over the last 5 years, the Kentucky Wildcats have consistently sported an above-average to very good defense. It’s pretty much been a staple of Mark Stoops’ tenure, and defensive coordinator Brad White has become synonymous with it since starting in 2019.
They’re giving up an average of 22.3 points per game this season, including holding Mississippi State to only 3 points last weekend.
It’s a conservative defense style - one that actually runs with a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy (unlike most fans who say that about their teams with just bad defenses). The Wildcats are allowing opposing QBs to complete almost 67% of their passes, but holding them to less than 7 yards per attempt and keeping opposing RBs at all of 3.4 yards per carry.
They rarely blitz, preferring to eschew pressure in favor of keeping extra people in coverage to limit damage.
Along the defensive line, defensive tackle Deone Walker is the driving force of the team. The sophomore is a 6’6” 350-lb specimen who was an All-SEC and Freshman All-American player last season, and he leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. As Walker moves into his junior year, he’s likely going to become a household name outside of the Kentucky program.
At linebacker, redshirt senior JJ Weaver returns as a guy who’s been consistently producing as an edge rusher in the SEC for half of a decade now, with 30 TFLs and 14 sacks in his career to this point.
Off the ball, D’Eryk Jackson and Trevin Wallace bring a lot of seniority to the group and are tremendous run-stuffers in their own right.
The secondary is where things get interesting. Alex Afari is a 6’2” 215 small linebacker that plays slot corner, and Maxwell Hairston has been a solid outside cornerback for the Wildcats. But the other 3?
Freshman Ty Bryant is playing safety, and he has no backups. He’s got potential, but has way too much on his plate. Meanwhile the other safety, Zion Childress, has been average at best. And the other outside corner spot has just been a rotation of guys underperforming.
According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 11 points in this one. Which, honestly, may be the smallest betting margin on an Alabama-Kentucky game in the last 15 years. With an O/U of 47 points, this is expected to be a low-scoring clunker of a game.
I predicted yesterday that the Wildcats would only score about 17 points on Alabama, and, yeah, I think somewhere in the range of 28-31 sounds about right for the Tide’s offense. Kentucky does a good job of limiting things and stuffing the run game, and I imagine trying to make the run game go is something that both Saban and Tommy Rees really want to do in this one.
To really beat Kentucky’s defense, you have to patiently attack the intermediate sections of the passing defense over and over while still testing out the deeper passes. Can Jalen Milroe do that? I’m not sure. I think this could be a frustrating one for him, as the Wildcats will be sitting back and waiting for a lot of the things he usually does.
On the other hand, they are susceptible to giving up some big plays in the passing game and don’t offer too much of a pass rush, so I definitely think Alabama will get some big plays there to score and ultimately get a 2-score win.
The game will be at 11:00 a.m. CT this Saturday and will be broadcast as the main game on ESPN.