LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky had no illusions of pulling off a miracle against top-ranked Alabama Saturday night. The young Wildcats simply wanted to compete and see what would happen.
Their mission never got going and the result was a 48-7 loss to the Crimson Tide that the Wildcats found painful to endure besides the lopsided score.
Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow did not return after injuring his left leg while being sacked in the first-quarter. Coach Mark Stoops described it as a “pretty good” ankle sprain.
Maxwell Smith came in and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Javess Blue in the third quarter, but that just brought the Wildcats within 31-7 and provided the evening’s only highlight.
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) was left with a fourth straight loss overall and its fifth in a row to the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0). The defeat also closed out the 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.
“We know how good Alabama is, but we can play better,” said Stoops, whose team was outgained 668-170. “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.”
Most frustrating to the Wildcats was not taking advantage of early opportunities provided by the Crimson Tide.
T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake fumbled on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter and Alabama receivers dropped passes in Kentucky territory. The two running backs rebounded to run for two touchdowns each and Alabama brushed off those few early mistakes to blow out Kentucky by scoring on its last eight possessions.
“We knew they were really driving on us and we had to get off the field,” Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson said. “We got a turnover, but we knew we had to stop them. We just weren’t feeling things right.”
Yeldon scored on runs of 24 yards and 3 yards and finished with 124 yards 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.
AJ McCarron shook off the handful of drops to throw for a career-high 359 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown to Kevin Norwood.
Alabama’s defense rang up four sacks, though it did allow its first TD in four games.
Some things went according to form as the Wildcats found little ground against the SEC’s second-ranked defense, but others 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 was especially costly as the sophomore coughed up the ball inside the 5. It was recovered by Williamson at the 2.
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 but Kentucky gained just 62 yards in the first half.
“Even though we got a couple of turnovers, we were still behind the eight ball most of the night and chasing it,” Stoops said. “It was an uphill climb.”
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 took advantage of the Wildcats’ struggles.