OXFORD – Against a defense that shows few, if any, weaknesses, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks may have provided a clue on how to attack Alabama.
In a 38-20 Kentucky defeat, Brooks’ directions may be closer to cocktail-napkin scribbling than a GPS, but to some degree they pointed the way.
It’s straight ahead.
Kentucky doesn’t rank in the top half of the SEC in rushing but posted season highs for an Alabama opponent with 38 attempts and 133 yards.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we are approaching a 400-yard game against a great defense. When we didn’t make the stupid mistakes, I thought we moved it pretty good,” Brooks said.
Kentucky’s 301 total yards was also a high for an Alabama foe.
No. 5 Virginia Tech managed just 64 rushing yards on 31 carries. Thirty-two of those yards came on one play.
Following the trip to Lexington, Alabama’s run defense continues to lead the SEC at 64.4 yards a game but dropped from second to fourth in the national rankings.
The timing of Kentucky’s performance coincided with the absence of sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who was missing his first start after a knee injury.
That caused some shuffling of Alabama’s linebackers and more playing time for backup Cory Reamer, who started in place of Hightower as one of two inside linebackers in Alabama’s 3-4 alignment.
It’s the man alongside of Hightower’s position, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who gets most of the attention.
“My role can’t change, really, I just have to step up my play. I can’t really try to overdo my job. I just have to trust the guy beside me,” McClain said. “I can’t play another gap, play another assignment – that’s when I had my two mental errors, I was trying to do that. I can’t do that. I have to trust to Cory to do his job and I just have to do mine.”
McClain overcame his mental errors to earn national defensive player of the week honors.
A 6-4, 258-pound junior from Decatur, Ala., McCalin registered a game-high 12 tackles, eight solos, picked off a pass, forced a fumble and recorded a pass deflection, all leading to Alabama points.
McClain’s forced fumble led to a 45-yard touchdown return that gave the Crimson Tide a 21-6 halftime lead. Then, his 21-yard interception return on the first possession of the third quarter set up another Alabama touchdown. And, his third-quarter pass deflection resulted in an interception that led to a field goal.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin has seen the Kentucky film. He may or may not follow the Brooks roadmap.
“You can learn something from every game, even the blowouts. We have to have a game plan that takes advantage of what we think their tendencies are, which are hard to arrive at, because they do so much and mix it up so much,” Austin said. “We also have to do what our players do well. We have to put our players in a position to be successful. That may be different from Kentucky’s personnel.”
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal