Alabama vs. Kentucky: Keys for Wildcats to Avoid Blowout Loss to Crimson Tide
The AP No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide will be on the road trying to keep their perfect record intact against Southeastern Conference foe Kentucky on Saturday.
According to the experts at Bovada, the Wildcats are 27-point underdogs, but head coach Mark Stoops' team isn't liable to roll over. Alabama will be Kentucky's fourth consecutive ranked opponent—the toughest of all, to be sure.
However, there are several tactics Kentucky can deploy to cover the spread and give the home Commonwealth Stadium crowd something to cheer about.
Here are keys for the Wildcats to avoid being blown off their own field and to keep striding in a more positive direction—even if they do lose as expected and drop to 1-5 on the 2013 season.
Be Aggressive From the Start
Considering this Wildcat team's record, there is no need to pull any punches in the early going against the two-time reigning national champions.
Whether it's trick plays, deep passes, exotic blitzes or what have you, Kentucky must throw everything and the kitchen sink at Alabama.
In the past two losses to Florida and South Carolina, the Wildcats were outscored in the first half by a combined 45-14. The fact that they remained competitive in the last 30 minutes of both those games shows that this group of players has the resilience to keep fighting with all odds stacked against them.
Ideally, this strategy would be put into action without any mental errors and no turnovers, because Kentucky is -1 in turnover margin this season.
The Wildcats won the battle in that category against the Gamecocks, which led to a narrow 35-28 defeat. It will take a similar sustenance of clean football to prevent being rolled by the Tide.
Establish QB Jalen Whitlow as Dual-Threat
The new Kentucky signal-caller is athletic enough to beat defenses with his feet, but has also proven he can make plays from the pocket.
Whitlow is the type of quarterback who can make magic out of broken plays and make what's supposed to be a lopsided game a closer one than the experts are led to believe. Whitlow did just that last week in the loss to No. 14 South Carolina.
Although the Gamecocks were without Jadeveon Clowney, it was still an impressive showcase from Whitlow, who went 17-of-24 for 178 yards passing and two touchdowns. He also carried it 17 times for 69 yards and another score.
Bet you wouldn't have guessed this: UK's Jalen Whitlow ranks 10th nationally this season in QBR, an ESPN creation: http://t.co/8RwMpaM9eg— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) October 11, 2013
An even greater effort will be necessary for Whitlow to keep the Wildcats within mere striking distance.
It helps that Crimson Tide star safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is suspended, making it a little easier for Whitlow to take shots down the field and manipulate coverage with his eyes.
Landon Collins and Geno Smith filled in for Clinton-Dix well against Georgia State last week, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. It will be interesting to see how the sophomore duo handles a more formidable opponent and a more dangerous quarterback in Whitlow.
Emphasize Stopping the Run
This is easier said than done against a massive Alabama offensive line and a star running back in T.J. Yeldon, but it will give the Wildcats their only chance to stay in the game.
Limiting Yeldon's effectiveness will force Tide quarterback AJ McCarron to be more of a playmaker than a game manager—the label that's often smacked onto him in a disparaging way.
Which quarterback will have the better game?
A lot of this depends heavily on how well Whitlow can run the football himself.
Keeping the Wilcats' defense on the field for too long will inevitably create a scenario where Yeldon wears it down and breaks off a big run to open the floodgates.
You know, when it seems like the field is tilting downhill in favor of the Tide when they take on an inferior opponent and that physical, relentless rushing attack gets rolling.
But with a few early three-and-outs, Yeldon wouldn't get into a groove, and the Wildcats would buy Whitlow chances to gash the Alabama defense.
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