Alabama is four games into the 2016 season and the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide has gotten the job done in all four. Next comes a four-game stretch against Southeastern Conference opponents, two at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium and two on the road.
It begins Saturday with Alabama homecoming. Kentucky is coming in off a 17-10 SEC win over South Carolina and will be making its first road trip. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. CDT with ESPN televising the game (and former Tide quarterback Greg McElroy handling analysis).
The Kentucky game will be followed by Bama going to Arkansas and Tennessee on consecutive weekends before returning to Tuscaloosa to host Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
“The SEC is a tough league, and every game we play in this league is an important game, as this game will be against Kentucky,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Monday.
In his review of the Tide’s 48-0 win over Kent State Saturday, Saban said, “We challenged the players to play a complete game and I thought we did a much better job of that. Now that we're back in SEC play, I think it's time that we build on that, build on the momentum. Play faster. Be more crisp. Practice better. Play with confidence. Use the right technique. And if we want to be the team that we're capable of being, I think it's important for everybody to buy into that and do that.
A highlight of Alabama play has been freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts having completed 64 of 102 passes (62.7 per cent) with 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception. He has also run a team-high 45 times and is second in rushing for Bama with 251 yards (5.6 per carry) with 3 touchdowns.
Asked about Hurts, Saban said, “Jalen did a nice job in the game. I still think it’s a matter of a couple reads here and there that we need to clean up with him. I don’t think there’s anything physically wrong with the way he throws the ball and each week he has gotten progressively better and we’ve had less and less and less of those types of things – which is the progress that we want to see and hopefully will be able to continue to build on.
“I know it’s very important to him. He works really hard, very conscientious, a really good person, good leader, well respected by his teammates. Nobody wants to get it right more than him and that’s why I think he’ll get it right.”
The Tide coach was also asked to assess the Bama defense through four games. He said, “The big question we had going into this season was how much depth did we have on defense, how were we going to be able to sustain the season? I think in three games this year the defense played really well and in one game (a 48-43 win over Ole Miss in Oxford) we didn’t play well at all.
“I think that was the most challenging game offensively we’ve had to this point because of the skill level of their players and their quarterback. We didn’t respond to it.
“I think you have to respond every week to really be good. When you have the big challenges that’s when you step up and play well. Hopefully, we can improve on that and play with more consistency. Guys don’t need to be getting casual about what they’re doing. They need to bear down when we’re playing the best teams. Obviously, everybody we play here for the next long time that I see is pretty doggone good.”
As for the next one, Kentucky, Saban said the Wildcats have played their best in their two most recent games, 62-42 over New Mexico State and 17-10 over South Carolina. He said Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops “has done a really good job of sort of finding out who they are and how they want to play. They've played really well in the last two games. Really good skill players on offense. Really good running backs, wide receivers. They're explosive guys. They have pretty impressive performances to this point. The quarterback has played well for them, even though he came in for the starter. He's done a nice job and they haven't really skipped a beat.
“Defensively, they definitely played their very best in the last game against South Carolina. Played much better on third down. Got off the field. This is a physical team and I think it's going to be very important that we start fast and play physical in this game in all aspect of the game because it's a very well coached team and I think they're playing really well right now.”
Saban also had a challenge for Alabama fans. “We're looking forward to homecoming,” he said. “Hopefully we'll have a great crowd that's very enthusiastic and excited about this game. I know our players will definitely be.”