Top-ranked Alabama not taking Kentucky lightly
Alabama coach Nick Saban challenged his players to play a complete game last week against Kent State.
The players did that in Saban's eyes in a 48-0 romp, and now the coach is hoping the team can build on that momentum again in their homecoming matchup against Kentucky. Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET (ESPN).
"Now that we are back in SEC play, I think it's time to build on that; build on the momentum," Saban said. "If we want to be the team that we are capable of being, I think it's important for everyone to buy into that and do that. The SEC is a tough league, and every game you play in this league is an important game as this game will be against Kentucky."
Kentucky marks the first of four straight SEC games before Alabama's bye week.
Saban is hoping to get a couple of people healthy, including running back Damien Harris, the Tide's leading rusher with 345 yards and an impressive 8.6 per carry average.
"The injury update is Damien Harris is still day-to-day," Saban said, adding that wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster also are considered questionable this week with knee injuries.
Harris is a freshman from Richmond, Kentucky, just a short hop from the Wildcats' campus in Lexington and very well known to Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.
"Damien looks very good, just like we knew recruiting him and watching him play right here in Kentucky," Stoops said. "He's just like you'd expect. He's a very talented guy and he looks very explosive, the great vision, the great jump cuts that you see out of him, that's what you see on film."
The Wildcats are 2-2 (1-1 SEC) overall after a 17-10 victory over South Carolina last weekend. Although they may not appear to be a threat to the 4-0 Crimson Tide, as is his wont, Saban isn't taking Kentucky lightly.
"Kentucky has played their best in the last two games that they have played," Saban said. "Mark Stoops has done a really good job of sort of finding out who they are and how they want to play. They played really well in the last two games.
"They have really good skill players on offense, good running backs and good receivers. They have explosive guys that have put up pretty impressive performances to this point.
"Their quarterback has played well for them, even though he had to come in for the starter, and he has done a nice job. They haven't really skipped a beat."
Maybe so, but this is still Kentucky, which hasn't beaten Alabama anywhere in that state in 22 tries, going 0-9 in Tuscaloosa, 0-8-1 in Birmingham, and 0-4 in Montgomery.
"You know they are led by arguably the best coach of all-time in college football and it starts there," Stoops said, referring to Saban. "But what impresses you about them is their whole program.
"Top to bottom they do things right. They are extremely talented, and they are very well coached. So, there is a lot to talk about on what they do right."
Stoops, however, isn't dwelling on what the Tide does as much as he zeroes in on his Wildcats, who have won their last two games over New Mexico State and the Gamecocks to even up their record after losses to Southern Mississippi and Florida.
"I want to see us continue to worry about us," he said, "continue to progress, and continue to improve in the areas we need to improve."
Quarterback Stephen Johnson, a junior-college transfer who has taken over for injured starter Drew Barker, guided the Wildcats to both of their wins. He has completed 28 of 41 attempts in the two games for 445 yards and three touchdowns.
"I saw a guy that made plays when he had to and really did what he had to do to manage the game and win the game," Stoops said. "There were some throws that he could have forced that he didn't.
"He made good decisions and got critical first downs with his legs. He took care of the football later on.
"There are still some things we know we need to clean up that I'm not happy about with turnovers and the ball on the ground but late in the game he did a better job with that."