TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Kentucky might’ve exceeded expectations at Alabama despite taking a 28-point loss.
That’s what can happen when the Wildcats (2-3, 1-2 SEC) take on the No. 1 Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC). Kentucky was tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter, and while Alabama took firm control of the game after that, the Wildcats didn’t make things easy.
Here’s how we graded the performance.
Nothing worked for Kentucky.
Junior QB Stephen Johnson faced a less-than-ideal environment for his first road start and it showed. Johnson held on to the ball for too long looking for the big play. The result was two lost fumbles, one returned for a 55-yard score, and a third fumble Kentucky recovered.
No Wildcats running back ran for more than 40 yards as Alabama stuffed the Benny and Boom show, holding Snell and Williams to 38 and 22 yards, respectively. The aerial attack was just as ineffective as Kentucky passed for just 89 yards.
Kentucky’s offense against Alabama’s defense was every bit the anticipated mismatch.
Kentucky held Alabama to 34 points — its second lowest total of the season.
That alone was a win in some ways for a defense showing signs of improvement. After being gashed by Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Florida, Kentucky held South Carolina to 10 points and prevented Alabama from lighting up the Bryant-Denny scoreboard Saturday.
The performance was far from shutdown, but considering where this defense was a few weeks ago, it was a big step forward.
Special teams: A
This has been Kentucky’s most consistent unit all season long, and the special teams did its job again Saturday.
Junior kicker and Alabama native Austin MacGinnis made both of his field goals from 45 and 30 yards after entering with just 1 make on 2 attempts for the season.
Freshman punter Grant McKinniss drilled a 61-yard punt in the second quarter. He averaged almost 45 yards per punt over 6 tries.
Junior receiver Jeff Badet had a 31-yard kick return down the sideline and the Kentucky kick and punt coverage teams held a dangerous Alabama return game in check.
Coach Mark Stoops and his staff had the Wildcats ready to play.
The first quarter was a slugfest, but Kentucky stayed in the ring with Alabama. And as Alabama’s talent and strength prevailed over the final three quarters, there was no visible letup in Kentucky’s effort. The same couldn’t be said after a 45-7 loss a few weeks ago at Florida when sophomore LB Jordan Jones said a few of his teammates quit when they were down.
That wasn’t the case against the Tide.
“I think everyone played,” Jones said after the game. “Everyone wanted to win tonight.”
The main coaching question against Alabama was the usage or lack thereof of freshman RB Benny Snell. He recorded only 8 carries, with just 2 coming in the first half. Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said the plan was to get Snell involved early, but the flow of the game didn’t allow for it.
Stoops and Co. never will be pleased with a loss, but Kentucky’s road trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., could’ve gone much, much worse.
There are things to figure out on both sides of the ball, but the Wildcats are going back to Lexington in one piece to play fellow 2-3 squad Vanderbilt on Saturday.