Game Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
This weekend, the Alabama Crimson Tide play host to the Kentucky Wildcats, a team fresh off of earning its first SEC win of the season. Kentucky has struggled to get going so far in the year, but they seemed to come together last week to rob South Carolina of a win. This weekend, however, no one is expecting Kentucky to win—or keep things close, for that matter.
When these two teams last met in 2013, it was Mark Stoops’ first season, and Kentucky was crushed by an Alabama team that was upset by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. It is only fitting, then, that Alabama has the chance to crush Kentucky in what could be Stoops’ final season in Lexington.
Kentucky has only beaten the Crimson Tide twice in these two teams’ existence, with only one of those wins coming after 1923. It was in 1997, a few months after I was born. Since then, Kentucky has only posted a better record than Alabama for a small span from 2006-2007. Rich Brooks was busy reviving Kentucky, and Mike Shula was busy earning wins that would be revoked due to a textbooks scandal in a few years’ time.
For those two years in the mid-2000’s, Kentucky was better. Times changed.
They never played in that time, however, and Alabama continued to win until it reached its current mark of 5 straight victories over Kentucky. It has simply become another one of those signature streaks that Kentucky football fans are used to dealing with.
Now, it may not be quite as long or as impressive as the streaks against Florida and Tennessee, but it’s equally as indicative of how other programs have ballooned into towering powers while Kentucky slowly marches along with the drumbeat of time, turning in each season’s record from the doldrums of power conference football. Saturday will be merely another drop in the bucket for a program that can’t keep up with its intra-conference contemporaries.
Fortunately for Kentucky, expectations play a big factor in morale being crushed during a long winning streak. No one expects Kentucky to beat Alabama for the foreseeable future, as evidenced by Alabama being favored by 36 points as I sit writing this. The Wildcats found themselves last Saturday in that beautifully competent performance against South Carolina. Alabama isn’t coached by Will Muschamp though.
The Crimson Tide are going to air it out against a Kentucky secondary that looked out of its league early on this season, and only managed to contain the Gamecocks’ passing attack due to Brandon McIlwain being less talented than Luke Del Rio and Nick Mullens. Jalen Hurts and Calvin Ridley are an unspeakably good duo. One that will throw for 350 yards against you without thinking twice. They’ll be the difference makers. They always are.
If Kentucky is to try and keep this close, however, my advice is to continue to do what worked against South Carolina: feed the ball to Benny Snell and Boom Williams. They have emerged as a dominant backfield threat, with Snell being able to power through defenders while Boom Williams’ speed allows him to rack up beaucoup yardage on only a handful of carries. They are always the bright spot in Kentucky football games.
Don’t expect Alabama to lose this weekend. For the Crimson Tide, this is just another game en route to a title defense. For Kentucky, this game is that pie-in-the-sky that would ensure Mark Stoops gets another year as head coach. My guess is that, come 7:45 on Saturday night, that dream will evanesce.
If only a game like this had been played in 2006.