The Alabama Crimson Tide and Kentucky Wildcats clash from Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday in an SEC matchup that may not be very close but will act as a pivotal moment for Nick Saban's team to improve.
Make no mistake—Kentucky is undergoing a renaissance of sorts under head coach Mark Stoops, but the Crimson Tide are too talented for the Wildcats to overcome unless every star aligns perfectly.
Stoops and Co. can use the matchup as a barometer for the program's status in its rebuild phase.
In that same vein, the Crimson Tide can use it as a way to correct the remaining issues plaguing the No. 1 team in the land, because the simplistic October will give way to a tough November in a hurry.
Here are a few things Alabama must do against the Wildcats.
Find the Correct Offensive Line Formula
If there is one issue that has been a legitimate concern this year for Alabama, it's been the offensive line that lost three starters to the NFL last offseason.
Last year the Crimson Tide averaged 227.5 rushing yards per game. This year Alabama only averages 166.2 per contest.
Simply put, that won't get it done.
Alabama's offensive line is skilled in that most of the players can start at multiple positions. There has been some shuffling in recent weeks, such as Grant Hill seeing time at right tackle against Georgia State, perhaps to create a competition with starter Austin Shepherd.
Regardless of the combination, Alabama needs to be rushing the football better and giving quarterback A.J. McCarron time to hit on deep throws. Against Kentucky's defense, Alabama has a nice opportunity to figure things out.
Take Better Care of the Football
To be specific, the Crimson Tide need to do a better job of protecting the football in the passing game. McCarron has thrown for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns but also has three interceptions on the year.
Part of the issue is the aforementioned offensive line, but through five games McCarron has already matched his interception total from all of last season.
For a guy who had thrown just eight interceptions in two years coming into this season, his three this year set an alarming pace.
While Kentucky may not have the firepower to fully take advantage of mistakes through the air, top SEC teams such as No. 10 LSU, which the Crimson Tide encounter on November 9, will have little issue capitalizing on silly mistakes.
Shut Down Jalen Whitlow
Kentucky has moved away from a two-quarterback system with Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, electing to go with the former last week. The result was Whitlow exploding for 247 total yards and three scores as the Wildcats lost to No. 13 South Carolina by just seven points.
For one reason or another, Alabama has struggled to sack opposing quarterbacks. That will not change against the Wildcats thanks to the elusive Whitlow, who excels at making plays as a runner or through the air.
Quarterbacks who can break to the outside and negate the Crimson Tide pass rush have found success through the air. Shutting down Whitlow is not only the biggest key to a victory over Kentucky, it's a critical element the Alabama defense has sorely missed this year but will need against better squads.
Alabama will also need an improved pass rush against Whitlow to make up for the absence of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the secondary while he serves a suspension.
Now would be the time for the Crimson Tide to find an effective pass rush.
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