LEXINGTON, Ky. — Once No. 1 Alabama got out of its own way, knocking Kentucky from its path became pretty easy on Saturday night.
Just ask T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, who each ran for two touchdowns as the Crimson Tide brushed off a few early mistakes to blow out the Wildcats 48-7.
After a scoreless first quarter thanks to fumbles by the running backs and dropped passes in Kentucky territory, the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) scored on their last eight possessions and outgained the Wildcats (1-5, 0-3) 668-170.
“We need to improve and try to dominate the competition, and I think we did that tonight,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But I also think we made a lot of mistakes. We turned the ball over a couple of times, dropped some passes. If you want to be the best, you can’t be satisfied with that, so there are some things we definitely need to improve on.”
AJ McCarron shook off the handful of drops to throw for a career-high 359 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown to Kevin Norwood.
Yeldon scored from 24 and 3 yards and finished with 124 on 16 carries; Drake added 106 yards and a pair of 1-yard TDs on 14 attempts. Altee Tenpenny added a late 7-yard TD run and Cade Foster kicked field goals of 25 and 20 yards.
Alabama’s defense rang up four sacks, though it did allow its first TD in four games since escaping that 49-42 shootout victory at Texas A&M last month. The Crimson Tide has outscored opponents 149-16 over that span, and beat the Wildcats for the fifth straight time.
Kentucky’s fourth straight loss closed out its most grueling stretch in school history, a schedule of ranked teams including No. 7 Louisville, No. 19 Florida and No. 13 South Carolina before facing the nation’s top-ranked team and two-time defending national champions.
Some things went according to form as the Wildcats found little ground against the SEC’s second-ranked defense and managed only Maxwell Smith’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Javess Blue midway through the third quarter that got them within 31-7. Smith relieved Jalen Whitlow after he left the game in the first quarter with what coach Mark Stoops said was a sprained left ankle and did not return.
Without their dual-threat quarterback, the Wildcats had no chance.
“We know how good Alabama is, but we can play better,” Stoops said.”We didn’t play our best tonight, and that’s why I’m disappointed. When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country, at least give them your best shot.”
Other things went off script as the initial 15 minutes saw the Crimson Tide commit an uncharacteristic combination of fumbles and dropped passes in Wildcats territory that contributed to their first scoreless opening quarter of the season.
Kenny Bell’s bobble while wide open down the middle killed Alabama’s first drive before Drake and Yeldon each fumbled on the next two possessions, the latter especially costly as the sophomore coughed up the ball inside the 5. It was recovered by Kentucky’s Avery Williamson at the 2.
“We just said we had to forget about it and keep the ball high and tight,” Yeldon said of the fumbles. “Our teammates helped us out and told us don’t worry about it and keep running the ball.”
Kentucky couldn’t take advantage of any of those breaks, but the Wildcats had a more pressing issue in replacing Whitlow after he was hurt while being sacked for a 9-yard loss on their second possession.
The sophomore from Prattville, Ala., lay on the ground for several moments before he was helped off the field and carted to the dressing room. Smith came in to no avail as Kentucky gained just 62 yards in the first half.
Considering how seamlessly Alabama was controlling the ball and the clock before the mistakes, it was just a matter of time before the Crimson Tide would eventually take advantage of the Wildcats’ struggles. In fact, they used most of the second quarter to break the game open.
Alabama got on the scoreboard on its fourth drive with Foster’s 25-yard field goal en route to 24 unanswered second-quarter points as Drake sandwiched 1-yard touchdown runs around Yeldon’s 24-yard TD run. Alabama’s quick spurt included another wide-open drop by Drake late in the quarter, but McCarron’s 42-yard pass to Norwood in double coverage to Kentucky’s 1 earlier was the play that seemed to shake the Tide out of their doldrums and contribute to 372 first-half yards.
Yeldon’s 3-yard TD run early in the third made it 31-0 and Alabama was in cruise control after its sputtering start.
“We got some work to do, but at the same time our offense and defense did great,” McCarron said.