published Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Nick Saban wary of struggling but scrappy Kentucky

TIDE, TAKE THREE

Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering Saturday's trip to Kentucky:

1) Alabama is 35-2-1 all-time against the Wildcats, with the losses occurring in 1922 and 1997.

2) AJ McCarron has won 93.8 percent of his games as the starting quarterback, placing him just ahead of Jay Barker's 1991-94 rate.

3) The Crimson Tide have won 16 consecutive games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium dating back to a 2010 loss at LSU.

Top-ranked Alabama travels to Kentucky this Saturday to face a Wildcats team that has struggled this football season but has not been embarrassed.

Kentucky is 1-4 with a surprise opening loss to Western Kentucky, but the Wildcats have been respectable in recent setbacks against Louisville, Florida and South Carolina. They lost six Southeastern Conference games by 20 or more points last year after enduring four such blowouts in 2011.

"It's always tough to play in our league, especially on the road," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday during his weekly news conference in Tuscaloosa. "I think Kentucky is really playing well as a team. Sometimes you look at the won-loss record and it's a little deceiving, because these guys have played three really good football teams in a row and played them all tough.

"They've given us tough games the last two times we've played them."

Saturday's game will kick off at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.

Alabama is 2-0 against Kentucky under Saban, winning 17-14 in 2008 at Tuscaloosa and 38-20 the next year in Lexington. The Wildcats scored in the final 40 seconds to make the 2008 game tight, and they were down just 7-6 late in the first half of the 2009 contest before the Crimson Tide broke free.

The Crimson Tide are the fourth consecutive top-20 team the Wildcats are facing, something that has not happened before for Kentucky. It's a scenario first-year coach Mark Stoops was unaware of when he accepted the job last November.

"I really didn't know, because we were in season there at Florida State," Stoops said Monday in his weekly media session. "I was pretty consumed with what I was doing. It wouldn't have deterred me, though."

Stoops came to Kentucky after serving as defensive coordinator for the Seminoles under Jimbo Fisher, who was a former LSU assistant under Saban. Stoops admitted Monday that he does not know Saban very well but that he has probably learned a lot of things indirectly through him as a result of working with Fisher.

The roots of Kentucky's practice structure, Stoops said, likely stem from Saban.

After dropping 27-13 and 24-7 contests to Louisville and Florida in Commonwealth Stadium, the Wildcats traveled to South Carolina last Saturday night and fell behind 21-0 in the first 16 minutes. Kentucky lost to the Gamecocks 54-3 in a 2011 trip to Columbia, but the Wildcats fought back this time before succumbing 35-28.

"I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games," Stoops said. "If we truly believe and go about our business and work and prepare and execute and make plays -- we had every opportunity to win that game. That's a very good team that's well-coached, but had we done some things right, we could have won that game."

Stoops said his primary goals Saturday are executing and competing, while Saban again discussed the focus of getting better.

Alabama definitely seems to be improving on special teams, with the Crimson Tide ranking second in the SEC in punting and punt returns and fourth on kickoff returns. The Tide had a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown in the opener against Virginia Tech, and they blocked a punt for a score against Colorado State.

"We've had more guys make plays on special teams than we've had in the past," Saban said. "This has been a benefit to us, and it's something that we certainly need to continue to create an advantage for ourselves."

Tide tidbits

Alabama's home game Oct. 19 against Arkansas will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2 and will have a 7 p.m. EDT kickoff. ... Sophomore linebacker Denzel Devall (knee) was limited in Monday's two-hour practice, but Saban said he should be fine for Saturday.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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