LEXINGTON, Ky. — Saturday will be the first Kentucky-Alabama matchup played in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since the Crimson Tide edged the Wildcats 17-14 in 2008.
Kentucky (2-2, 1-1 SEC) has just two wins in the overall series that dates back to 1917. Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) enters as the No. 1 team in the country.
Marq Burnett covers Alabama for SEC Country. We caught up with Marq for a Q&A on the Crimson Tide and how he expects Saturday to play out.
Q: With road games at Arkansas and Tennessee coming up, how does Alabama stay motivated to play Kentucky?
Marq: I think there are built-in reasons for Alabama to stay motivated for this one. Offensively, the downfield passing game still needs to improve. Defensively, Alabama wants to work on not allowing big plays after Kent State broke a big one on the Crimson Tide to open that game. The game against Ole Miss showed Alabama that it isn’t invincible, so I think they’ll be locked in the rest of the season.
Q: What stands out from Jalen Hurts that made him the first freshman quarterback to start at Alabama in quite some time?
Marq: His composure. Hurts has a ton of talent, but it’s his calm demeanor and his ability to move on to the next play that won him the job. He fumbled on the first play of his career against USC and didn’t let it affect him. He just came back and led the team to a 52-6 win. He took a direct shot to the chin and fumbled the ball against Ole Miss after one of Alabama’s offensive lineman blew an assignment, and didn’t let it affect him. He just got up and led Alabama back from a 24-3 deficit. The physical attributes are obvious. He’s got a big arm, he’s athletic and he is a serious threat as a runner. But Hurts’ maturity as an 18-year-old freshman is probably the biggest reason he won the job.
Q: Has the staff trusted Hurts to make big plays in the passing game or has the run game taken most of the pressure off of him?
Marq: If you look at the Ole Miss game, Alabama’s coaching staff put a lot on Hurts’ shoulders to lead the team back from the early 24-3 deficit. Alabama’s coaching staff ran the offense through Hurts with designed quarterback runs, as well as play-action passes. He responded well and led Alabama to the win. There is still plenty of room for improvement in the passing game. But that will come with more reps and more time in the offense.
Q: Mark Stoops thought UK was close to landing Damien Harris. If he’s healthy to play this week, will there be extra excitement for him to face his home state team?
Marq: I think so. Harris took a good bit of heat from Kentucky fans for his decision. He got some less-than-friendly response on social media when he took a little shot at Kentucky after Alabama’s SEC Championship Game last season. No one can seriously blame Harris for picking Alabama, the same way no one can blame a 5-star basketball player picking Kentucky. Harris will certainly be motivated to show Kentucky fans what he can do. What makes this game even more important for him is that Alabama and Kentucky won’t play again during Harris’ career (barring a miraculous SEC title game meeting). This is his only shot to put on a show against his home state school.
Q: How do you see Saturday playing out?
Marq: This should be a relatively easy win for Alabama. Talent wins out, and Alabama is the better team. As I mentioned above, Alabama should be locked in the rest of the season after getting the scare against Ole Miss. Alabama 41, Kentucky 13