TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s homecoming matchup against Kentucky, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for the Wildcats ahead of the game Saturday.
Joe Mussatto is the Kentucky beat reporter for SEC Country. Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on the ESPN. Top-ranked Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) is coming off a 48-0 win against Kent State. Kentucky (2-2, 1-1 SEC) defeated South Carolina 17-10 in Week 4.
Joe Mussatto, SEC Country
Question: What’s the feel around campus/in town for this game? Do the fans expect to win?
Mussatto: The fanbase seemed ready to check out completely if Kentucky would’ve lost to South Carolina last Saturday, and while it’s been given a bit of hope, I don’t think anybody expects the Wildcats to come home from Alabama with a win. Everybody has this one penciled in as a loss, but if Kentucky comes back in one piece, favorable home games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State await.
Q: Nick Saban has talked about how Kentucky has played its best football in the last two weeks. What have been the biggest differences for Kentucky in getting those two wins?
Mussatto: The obvious difference has been Stephen Johnson. He’s been the starting quarterback for all but one series in the last two games. His numbers didn’t stick out last week but he managed the game well enough to put Kentucky in a position to win. Sticking with the offense, freshman RB Benny Snell has emerged during the two-game winning streak as UK’s second-best back. Boom Williams is the flashier option who can pick up big gains, but Snell has come from nowhere to be Kentucky’s power back. He was the go-to option on Kentucky’s game winning drive against South Carolina. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky’s defense had given up 40-plus points in every game before holding South Carolina to 10. The defense showed improvement but it’s hard to gauge against a bad Gamecocks offense.
Q: Outside of Kentucky’s running backs, who are some players Alabama fans should know for the game Saturday?
Mussatto: Garrett Johnson is the most targeted Kentucky receiver, but Jeff Badet has been the big-play guy. The Wildcats have nothing to lose in this one so watch for them to take a few chances finding Badet deep. He only has eight catches this year, but he’s averaging 30 yards every time he reels one in. Jordan Jones is the most exciting player to watch on defense. The sophomore linebacker tries to do it all for a side that largely struggles. Jones has been everywhere this season, averaging more than 10 tackles per game.
Q: Has the fanbase given up on the Mark Stoops era?
Mussatto: Maybe. That’s the best answer I can give you. Half of the fanbase seems to be behind him but half seems ready for a change. He had a guy on his radio call-in show Monday tell him that he’d rather see Tommy Tuberville coaching Kentucky. Another asked why players don’t get better when they come to him. But for all the crazy calls, there still are those who strongly support him. He’s in Year 4, and I think the pressure is only going up. Kentucky hasn’t gone to a bowl since 2010 and the Wildcats are on the outside looking in at 6-6 this year.
Q: What’s your feel for the game and prediction?
Mussatto: It’s hard to match Alabama’s talent. The Crimson Tide seem to have the advantage at every position. The Wildcats were blown out on their first road trip at Florida, and I think they’re looking for a better showing than that. It’s just hard to envision. Alabama 48, Kentucky 7.