Suffice it to say that Alabama Coach Nick Saban was less than pleased with his team’s performance in the first half of Saturday night’s 34-6 win over Kentucky. Bama led 17-3 at the break, but Saban did not like what he saw between the chalk lines.
“I thought we were a little sloppy in the first half,” Saban told media gathered following his top-ranked team’s SEC win. “The quarterback (Jalen Hurts) struggled a little bit, especially in the passing game, and throwing the ball effectively. We ran the ball pretty effectively. I thought defensively we played pretty well. We had some sacks and turnovers, and scored on defense. All in all, I think this is a good win for us. I knew this would be a tough game, as I said to many people all week.
“I was pleased with the way our guys came out in the second half and played. I challenged them a little bit at halftime. I didn’t think we imposed our will in the first half like we could’ve, or should’ve, or wanted to, however you want to say it. I thought we did a much better job in the second half. We left some points out there by not finishing some drives in the red area.
“Kentucky has got a much better team than people give them credit for, especially in the last couple of weeks (two wins for UK), when they’ve been trying to run the ball and do what they do very well. Their defense has played a lot better, and I think that was certainly the case today. You’ve got to give them credit. You’ve got to give (Kentucky Coach) Mark Stoops a lot of credit for bringing his team back (from and 0-2 start) that way, so that they’re playing hard and actually playing a lot better.
“They had a couple of little (new) wrinkles they gave us. They played a little more four wideouts today, which they had done earlier in the season effectively, and hadn’t done as much the last couple of weeks. That created a couple of mismatch issues for us, relative to how we matched them up, and that was a little bit of an issue for us on a couple of third downs, but that’s something we’ll have to (improve) in the future. They played a little ‘Wildcat’ where the running back lines up at quarterback… in nickel situations. They had done that against ‘regular’ (defense) situations, so we weren’t as prepared to defend it in nickel, since we had worked on it in regular, and that’s how they moved the ball on the last (field goal) drive really effectively.”
“We executed a little bit better in the second half. We just have to be a little more consistent in the passing game. Calvin (Ridley) had a career day today (with 11 catches for 174 yards and two TD’s). He was really, really good, but we’ve got a lot of other good players that we need to get the ball to in the passing game. We had some guys open out there and plays designed, that they should have gotten the ball, and they would have been big plays. We didn’t make them. We didn’t make the throws. Sometimes we didn’t read it correctly, so these are things that we need to continue to … work on and develop, so we can develop a little more consistency in the passing game.
“(The passing games issues) were a combination of two things: First, we were taking some (deep) shots, thinking that they would play us a little more man-to-man, but they played a little more three-deep zone, and played pretty soft, so we didn’t really have the (dee) shots. And, we didn’t (pass) protect very well. They pressured the quarterback, and (Hurts) didn’t really have a chance to read it out… so we just didn’t do a very good job of executing up front, or in the route selection that we had, or in the execution of (throwing).”
Hurts finished 20-for-33 passing for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 25 net yards.
Like all present, Saban noticed the first career 100-yard game by true freshman running back and first-time starter Joshua Jacobs, who ran for exactly 100 yards on 16 carries, scoring once.
“Joshua is a hard-working, very instinctive player,” Saban said. “He really understands how to press the hole and make cuts. He’s got quickness, he’s got a little burst with acceleration, and he’s got good hands.
“We needed one of our freshman backs to step us this week (with starter Damien Harris slowed by an ankle sprain), and we only had (Jacobs and B.J. Emmons) left, and we’re pleased with the progress both have made, but Josh (Jacobs) has certainly done a really good job for us.”
Saban pointed out that the 55-yard touchdown by Ronnie Harrison following a strip by Rashaan Evans was huge. “We wanted to attack the ball, especially on the quarterback,” he said. “I thought he was a little loose with the ball. I thought the players did a good job of noticing that.
“That was certainly a big play in the game because we were struggling on offense. The score was 10-3, and they were hanging in the game. That was a big momentum swing for us. That’s what we work on: trying to strip the ball out, every day in practice. That will be something we can show the other players. When you do it correctly, you certainly have a chance to get the kind of consequences that you like, and get the ball out.”
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As always, Saban saw much room for improvement, despite the margin of victory. “There are lots of things that we can improve on, and there are lots of things to correct,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of lessons to be learned in this game. We’ll be anxious to make those improvements this week.”
Video by A.P. Steadham