No. 8 Alabama aims to clinch SEC West title at Kentucky, which looks to win its second straight game
Thu, Nov 9, 2023
NCAAF News (AP)
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Alabama is nearing another SEC West title with hopes of entering the playoff picture.
All while the No. 8 Crimson Tide still seek a complete performance.
A high bar, indeed. But what's clear entering Saturday's noon game at Kentucky is Alabama's been on a roll since a September home loss to No. 7 Texas. The Tide (8-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 8 CFP ) have won seven straight and can clinch the West with a victory over the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) or a Mississippi loss.
After duking out a 42-28 victory over No. 18 LSU last weekend, Alabama coach Nick Saban acknowledged his team came close to meeting his lofty expectations. He also warned that the Tide can't let up, especially against a Kentucky squad coming off a win at Mississippi State.
"Kentucky is a completely different kind of team than what we played against a week ago and what we did last week is not going to have any impact on what we do this week," Saban said recently. "They've got great balance on offense. Their defense is tough and physical and really well-coached in terms of what they do."
The Wildcats finally put both phases together with last week's 24-3 victory that halted a three-game slump. Bowl eligible for an eighth consecutive season, they look to improve their postseason prospects with a marquee victory.
Kentucky has room to grow offensively after totaling just 271 yards, though Devin Leary threw for 156 with two short touchdowns. But the defense held the host Bulldogs to just 218 yards, returned an interception for a touchdown and allowed only a field goal from a remarkable 20-play MSU drive that consumed 12:29.
Pleased as coach Mark Stoops is with getting back on track, he made clear that his team must play its best against a perennial SEC heavyweight.
"They seem to be getting better and stronger as the year goes on and that will be a big challenge for us, just to match their physicality and improve and have better, more disciplined execution," he said. "It's going to take a total team effort."
THE 1,000-YARD CLUB
Several Wildcats are on the cusp of reaching that milestone in different fashions. Running back Ray Davis, the SEC's No. 2 rusher who had 1,042 yards last season at Vanderbilt, is just 97 yards shy of becoming the 15th Kentucky player to reach that mark in a season. Sophomore receivers Barion Brown and Dane Key need 16 and 50 yards, respectively, to reach 1,000 for their careers.
Anybody who watched Jalen Milroe when he replaced Bryce Young last season knew he could run. The Alabama quarterback just didn't flash those abilities as often until his 155-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance against LSU. Milroe set a school record for rushing TDs in a game by a QB, flashing his speed, elusiveness and power on one shoulder-lowering run. He kept his sense of humor when asked if he turned up the speed an extra gear.
"It was a secret formula I built up in a lab," he said. "I was hiding it for a couple of weeks and I decided to take it out this past weekend."
D'Eryk Jackson's 28-yard interception return for a TD at MSU was Kentucky's third pick-six this season, tying with Tennessee and Arkansas for the most in the SEC. (Maxwell Hairston had two at Vanderbilt.) The Wildcats are among four teams tied for seventh with eight interceptions overall.
Saban was on LSU's sideline for the so-called Bluegrass Miracle, when his Tigers won 33-30 in Lexington on a 74-yard Hail Mary caught by Devery Henderson on the final play on Nov. 9, 2002.
"I remember we didn't play very well," Saban said. "I remember they poured Gatorade on the coach already. I remember there was about a 30-mile-an-hour wind that we had at our back. The guy threw the ball and it just kept going and going and going and their guys misjudged the ball and tipped it, Devery Henderson caught it, ran it for a touchdown so that's basically what I remember."
Alabama has been perfect in games with similar kickoff times under Saban. He has led the Tide to a 27-0 mark with games that have kickoffs at 11:30 a.m. CT or earlier.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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