The Kentucky Wildcats are traveling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to take on the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday. The Wildcats are a significant underdog, but will be playing with emotion after losing its beloved offensive line coach John Schlarman. Here’s how UK can win on the road:
Shorten the game. The Kentucky offense can greatly assist its defense by staying on the field which in turn will limit the Tide’s offensive possessions. Converting on third down will be a critical task. UK must maintain its season average of 45% or higher conversion rate on third down. To achieve this, Eddie Gran’s unit will need to be effective on early downs and not live in must-passing situations. A heavy dose of Chris Rodriguez may be the solution for the Cats to live in the S.L.O.P. (Sustained, Long, Offensive, Possessions).
Stay on schedule. See above. The Cats cannot afford to allow tackles for loss or QB sacks on first and second downs. UK had zero negative yardage plays in its recent outing vs. Vanderbilt. Alabama is a much better defense, but its offensive plan will need to include staying ahead of the chains.
Block number 32. LB Dylan Moses is the quarterback of the Alabama defense. He’s racked up 50 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in 2020 and is one of the best linebackers in college football.
Locate numbers 13 and 9 pre-snap. “Star” Malachi Moore plays the hybrid linebacker/safety role and does so at an extremely high level. The true freshman’s pre-snap location will indicate both run and pass blitzes. Same can be said for strong safety Jordan Battle. These two defenders will load the box in order to stop the run.
No turnovers. Cannot have turnovers on the road against an opponent that is a substantial favorite. UK must hold onto the football and not throw interceptions. Giving Mac Jones and that offense extra possessions could spell doom for the Cats.
Prevent the homerun shot. QB Mac Jones is one of the best deep ball throwers that I’ve seen in many years. He has WR’s DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III at his disposal. Both are speedsters that have proven to be excellent in the vertical passing game. Metchie III is averaging 21 yards per catch. Smith has 56 catches for the season to go along with 8 touchdowns. Alabama leads the SEC by averaging 47 points and 555 yards per game. A great deal of those numbers are products of its deep passing attack.
Tackle number 22. RB Najee Harris is the top ranked runner in the Southeastern Conference. Averaging 119 yards per game, Harris is capable of taking over a football game. He’s scored 14 touchdowns this season. Harris is the focus of the Tide’s run game and has 124 carries for the season.
Pressure Mac Jones. Mac Jones, a one-time UK commit, is completing 78% of his passes and has thrown for 2,196 yards. He’s also tossed 16 touchdown passes and averaging 366 yards per game. The Heisman Trophy candidate is enjoying an historical season in Tuscaloosa. If given time, he can and will pick defenses apart. The Cats will need to influence the pocket in order to force Jones to be less accurate.
Play assignment football. Coach Mark Stoops was not happy with his defense against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats allowed the Commodores to convert 11/17 on third down and surrendered 35 points as well as 407 total yards. Gap integrity and proper zone defense assignments in the passing game will have to be nearly flawless in order to beat the Tide. Missed assignments against this relentless offense will result in touchdowns.
Make field goals. UK has to convert on all scoring opportunities, this includes field goals. Kicker Chance Poore was the SEC’s Special Team’s Player of the Week vs. Vandy. He will need to continue his good fortune on Saturday.
Goodfellow be good. Replacing an All-American is not easy. Goodfellow averaged 46 yards per punt a week ago. He will need to flip the field in order to not give the Crimson Tide offense a shortened field.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Kentucky will need to play a nearly unblemished football game to leave Tuscaloosa with a victory. Alabama is the number one ranked team in America for a reason. Nick Saban has future pros backed up by future pros with a team that is extremely well coached.
Southeastern Conference football can be unforgiving. The Cats are faced with a challenge on Saturday. Several UK players have NFL aspirations. The tape from the Alabama game will be the first that scouts will turn on in order to evaluate “best on best." The matchup against the Crimson Tide has to be looked at as an opportunity, not a chore.