Alabama looking to extend winning streak
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban’s view on “trap games” slightly differs from Bobby Knight’s take on game faces.
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When asked about its potential application to the third-ranked Crimson Tide’s first SEC road game today at Kentucky, Alabama’s football coach asked for a definition of the term.
“Never heard of it,” Saban said, frankly.
After it was defined as a game with upset possibilities, Saban’s two-minute response journeyed through the various mental aspects of the game.
“Consistency is one of the hardest things to do from a human-nature standpoint,” Saban said wrapping up his answer. “And I think it takes something special to be able to do that, and it’s a challenge to get it done with your team every week. That’s our challenge.”
Entering the 12:21 p.m. kickoff as the 15-point favorite won’t make much difference to the Alabama players who remember last season’s meeting with Kentucky. The Tide, then ranked No. 2 in the nation coming off a huge win at No. 3 Georgia, had to fight its way to a 17-14 win at home.
Nearly every Alabama player asked about that penalty-filled game used the word “physical” to describe Kentucky’s style. This year’s game isn’t expected to feature the same “three yards and a cloud of dust,” the 2008 game plan as described by Tide lineman Mike Johnson. That strategy pushed Glen Coffee to a career-high 218 rushing yards while quarterback John Parker Wilson completed just 7-of-17 passes.
Now sporting a more wide-open offense that still likes to run the ball between the tackles, Alabama’s balanced attack is creating dilemmas for opposing defenses. Receiver Darius Hanks said he expects the Wildcat corners to play a lot of physical man-coverage.
“They like to jam up, but we’re speedy guys,” he said, “so we should be able to get behind them.”
An immediate follow-up question about Kentucky’s All-American cornerback Trevard Lindley brought another confident answer from Hanks, the Tide’s fifth-leading receiver with seven catches for 126 yards.
“He’s old and he’s experienced and everything, but he’s going to have to cover us all,” Hanks said. “And I doubt he can do that. He’ll have a pretty tough job on his hands.”
Kentucky also brings a healthy group of playmakers, including Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. The Wildcats don’t spread the ball around to as many offensive threats as Alabama.
Locke is an explosive running back who leads the SEC by averaging 163 all-purpose yards per game. That number is padded by a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown scored against in-state rival Louisville.
Tide running back Roy Upchurch said he’s feeling 80 percent back to normal following a high-ankle sprain suffered three weeks ago. The senior expects Kentucky will come out trying to stop the run first, much like Arkansas did last week. There was a certain level of frustration in Alabama’s sudden trouble running the ball, but Upchurch doesn’t think the Tide will abandon the power game — at least not right away.
“We’re still going to apply the pressure with the run,” he said. “And, if not, it’s a wide receiver show.”
But is there any fear of Kentucky sneaking up and adding Alabama to the long list of top-5 upset victims? Senior defensive end Brandon Deaderick doesn’t think so.
“I don’t see fear in any of my guys’ hearts so, I tell them this is the SEC,” said Deaderick, a native Kentuckian. “I tell them hey, they better be ready to strap it up.”