LEXINGTON, Ky. — Alabama had been among the worst in taking possession away from the opposition with just four turnovers coming into Saturday.
It doubled that total with three interceptions and a fumble recovery that helped steal any momentum away from Kentucky.
The fumble created by Rolando McClain that turned into a 45-yard Courtney Upshaw touchdown return affected Wildcat Derrick Locke who lost the ball in the closing seconds of the second quarter and put the Tide up 21-6.
“It messed with my head,” he said. “… I thought about it the whole game because I felt like I let my team down. I have no idea what the outcome of the game would have been if I had not lost the ball.”
Upshaw came away with a much different feeling after his first collegiate touchdown.
“Oh man, I just saw the ball and I caught it,” the sophomore said. “I’m happy those boys were there to lead the way because I was tired.”
McClain, Eryk Anders and Mark Baron also came up with interceptions of Mike Hartline passes that killed Kentucky’s chances of an upset.
Another slow start
For the fourth time in five games, Alabama didn’t start well Saturday afternoon.
The offense managed just 22 first-quarter yards while Kentucky put together a pair of quality drives that ended with field goals.
“After that first drive, it got a little rocky,” Tide receiver Earl Alexander (Central) said. “They were throwing some stuff at us. But it was us. It was never about them. It was just about us adjusting to it.”
Linebacker McClain said the team didn’t come out flat for its second 12:21 p.m. kickoff of the season.
“We had a good warm-up,” he said. “We just played against a real good team. They gave us their best punch and we took it and we countered it. And we pride ourselves on being a second-half team and we showed up in the second half.”
Peek’s big day
Colin Peek had the biggest game of his brief Alabama career against Kentucky.
His six receptions nearly doubled his season total through four games and the Georgia Tech transfer’s 65 yards also was a season- and game-high.
His 3-yard touchdown reception was another personal Alabama-first.
“Their safeties really play flat-footed in that area,” Peek said. “So I knew just what I have to shave off at the end, get into his body and body him up, Greg (McElroy) was going to throw a perfect ball. It was exactly as we executed in practice.”
Kentucky didn’t exactly gash Alabama with its two-headed rushing attack.
Relative to the Tide’s four previous opponents, however, the Cats were dominant. Their 133 rushing yards were a season-high for those playing Alabama who averaged 47.2 yards a game. Kentucky’s 3.5-yard average per rush eclipsed the other four’s 1.7 although Kentucky was the first to emphasize the run.
“I don’t think we were attacking the line of scrimmage as coach wanted us to,” defensive end Lorenzo Washington said.
Tide or Gators
Since Kentucky suffered losses to No. 1 Florida and third-ranked Alabama on consecutive Saturdays, Wildcat players and coaches were asked to compare the two.
“I think Alabama, defensively, is just as good as Florida (might) be better,” coach Rich Brooks said. “Offensively, they’re a totally different style. … (Alabama) is a great football team and I’d expect we’ll be seeing those two teams playing in the conference championship game.”
Florida jumped on Kentucky for 31-first quarter points last Saturday with former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow leading the way.
“Alabama was more of a downhill running team,” Wildcat linebacker Micah Johnson said. “We knew they were going to try it and that they were going to come in here and try to blow us out with the run, and I felt like our defense held up pretty good against it.”
A week after using the Wildcat offense to burn Arkansas on a 50-yard touchdown pass from McElroy to receiver Julio Jones, the new-look offense disappeared from Alabama’s game plan Saturday.
Kentucky ran a few plays from the formation using converted quarterback turned receiver Randall Cobb behind center. Not much offense was generated from Kentucky’s version of the Wildcat, and Cobb’s only pass sailed over the head of an open receiver.
Alabama coach Nick Saban just finished giving the thumbs up to the Tide fans remaining after the game when he found a less receptive pocket of fans.
As he jogged to the tunnel leading to the Alabama locker room, a vocal group of Kentucky fans rained boos and insults in Saban’s direction. The crowd was not pleased with his decision to fake a field goal and then throw for the end zone late in the 18-point win.
Field position varied
Turnovers and a big kick return helped Alabama’s starting field position for most of the afternoon.
The second quarter was the lone exception as the Tide offense struggled and Kentucky punter Ryan Tydlacka did his job. Twice he pinned Alabama inside its own four yard-line with perfect punts that gave the Tide an average starting field position of its own 12 for the second quarter.
But when the field position battle shifted in Alabama’s favor, it ended with an average drive-start at its own 37.
Ole Miss time set
CBS Sports didn’t need to wait until Monday to make its decision for Saturday’s afternoon game.
It chose Alabama’s visit to Ole Miss for its 3:30 p.m. game not long after the Tide wrapped up its win over Kentucky. It will be the second time Alabama played on the network and will set up Florida’s visit to LSU scheduled for 8 p.m. on CBS.