It was fair to be concerned about how Alabama might play in Lexington. Coming off of a resounding victory over LSU, going on the road to play against what has been a feisty defense with a breakfast kickoff, the conditions were right for a sluggish start. We even got word that top receiver Jermaine Burton was too sick to play, joining defensive starters Deontae Lawson and Jaylen Key.
This Alabama team, however, seems to have a new energy about it.
The Tide got the ball first and went on a beautiful 10 play, 80 yard touchdown march that ended with Jalen Milroe ripping one down the seam to Amari Niblack for the score. Milroe showed off his legs on that opening drive but also took a direct hit to the thigh that had him somewhat hobbled the rest of the afternoon. No matter, he finished the game with six total touchdowns, becoming the first player in Alabama history to throw for three and run for three...and did it all in three quarters of a SEC road game.
Absent one terrible decision that resulted in an interception on a ball that should have been thrown away, Milroe was downright outstanding as a passer. He’s also showing a strong feel for drawing the defense up and then throwing it over the top of them, which is a devastating skill for a quarterback with his running ability. Through the years, Saban has lamented playing quarterbacks who can still burn the defense when they’ve done everything right, and Jalen is turning into that type of player.
We saw more of Kendrick Law in the backfield. The jet sweep has been quite effective, and the threat of the wheel route has opened up some underneath stuff. Jordan Rodgers pointed out on the broadcast that the staff has given Milroe a bunch of sail/flood concepts in effort to shrink the field for him by half and allow him to make a quick decision to pass or take off. This has seemingly worked well, and it also has the benefit of reducing traffic on the other side in case he does pull it down. This is something of a limiting factor in the pass game, obviously, but it maximizes Jalen’s skill set.
Perhaps best of all, Alabama quarterbacks were not sacked all afternoon, which is a welcome sight. Note that I said, “quarterbacks” becauase this one turned into such a laugher that Ty Simpson got to play the entire fourth quarter. He led a touchdown drive on his first possession, and looked quite good in doing so. He even showed off his underrated wheels to convert a first down.
Defensively, Alabama was able to lock down the running game of Ray Davis. Do that and you stop Kentucky, becuase Devin Leary frankly isn’t much of quarterback. The Alabama front batted balls back in Leary’s face on multiple occasions. Tim Keenan III and Justin Eboigbe were dominant yet again. Their presence has made an immeasurable impact on the Alabama defense as a whole.
Terrion Arnold made about as pretty an interception as you will see, as he undercut an out route from the slot and then made a gorgeous diving grab. He made some money on that play. Caleb Downs was called for pass interference in the end zone but otherwise played well. Kentucky RB Ramon Jefferson got loose on a garbage time run fit bust and Downs showed great hustle to chase the play down from behind at the two. Kristian Story subsequently forced and recovered an obvious fumble, but the officials on the field ruled it down by contact and the replay booth decided not to review it for whatever reason.
Kool Aid McKinstry muffed another punt, but Saban stuck with him. Later in the game he actually got to return one for the first time in a while and showed off the explosiveness that has him in that spot to begin with. Saban was quite defensive when asked about Kool Aid in that spot after the game and even blamed the gunner for getting in his kitchen, so it’s unlikely that we see a change.
With the victory, Alabama is now set for a SEC Championship tilt against Georgia, in which the Bulldogs are likely to be favored by about a touchdown assuming both teams are relatively healthy going in. Of course, Alabama still has to take care of business on the pasture first, which can always be interesting. Auburn is unfortunately feeling good about themselves after destroying Arkansas on the road yesterday. Should Alabama win out, the question becomes whether they’d be left out of the playoff.
If the committee watched this team play the last two weeks and still chooses to rank teams like Washington and Florida State ahead of them based solely on the records, then the playoff committee is worthless. Anyone can just put the undefeated teams at the top, but strength of schedule is supposed to mean something. Alabama dropped one early game to a strong out of conference opponent while breaking in a new offensive staff and quarterback. Had they instead scheduled a lesser foe, they’d undoubtedly be ranked in the CFP field currently. Punishing them for that loss shouldn’t be the scheduling message the committee wants to send.
Washington has beaten Stanford, USC and Utah the past three games by a combined 26 points, allowing 103 points in the process. Florida State just barely eked out a win at home vs a sorry Miami squad. Alabama has a stronger resume than both in terms of quality wins. Even Texas, who holds the head to head over Alabama, has struggled of late including last night’s three point win over TCU.
ESPN FPI currently has Alabama 4th behind Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon. Florida State, Texas, and Washington are a respective 8th, 9th, and 13th. In their heart of hearts, I doubt anyone on that committee would bet against Alabama if they played any of those teams. We’ll see if the committee is willing to rethink things.
I have my doubts.
In any case, this was an impressive victory for the Tide and they achieved one important goal of getting back to Atlanta. Hopefully they can keep building from here.