On Thursday Alabama Coach Mike Shula said that Mark Guillon's back had "tightened up" and that Spencer Pennington had gotten most of the work Thursday. But, Shula said, he still expected Guillon to start. There were rumors in Tuscaloosa that Guillon had actually missed all practice work after Sunday and that Pennington would start. That proved to be true, even after Guillon worked in pre-game warm-ups as if he was the starter.
Pennington went the distance for Alabama at quarterback and led the Tide to its biggest point total in a Southeastern Conference game since beating Ole Miss, 45-7, in 2000.
The win improved Alabama's record to 4-2 and evened the Tide's SEC mark at 2-2.
It could prove to be a costly victory. Depth-poor Bama saw starting tailback Ray Hudson, the SEC's second-leading rusher, go down in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury.
"It's early yet but it doesn't look real good right now," Shula said about Hudson's knee. "It might be another serious knee injury. We hope for the best but the doctors didn't have a good look on their face coming off.
Alabama has its final non-conference game of the season and celebrates homecoming next week as the Crimson Tide hosts Southern Miss. Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 2:30 p.m. with the only television coverage Pay-Per-View.
While Shula told the media on Thursday that he expected Guillon to start, he told Pennington something else. "I started getting most of the reps in practice," Pennington said. "It didn't become official until Thursday. Coach told me the ball was going to be in my hands."
Alabama seemed comfortably in control through most of the first half, and Bama's margin of 42 plays for 276 yards to Kentucky's 18 plays for 99 yards reflected that. The score was not as decisive. The Tide got a 36-yard field goal from Brian Bostick just as the second quarter was ending to take a 17-7 lead at intermission.
Bostick's first effort to put Alabama on the scoreboard at the end of a long game-opening Crimson Tide drive was stopped by Kentucky's kick block specialist, Donnell Dewalt.
Alabama came back with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was kept alive by a roughing the passer call against the Wildcats. Facing third and one at the one, Bama went to its "Big Load" offense with three tight ends and Tim Castille moving from fullback to halfback and running behind Le'Ron McClain. A missed tackle in the backfield enabled Castille to get in.
Alabama started its next drive with the ball just inches from the Crimson Tide goal line after a 57-yard Kentucky punt. Bama, which did not convert a third down opportunity into a first down in 11 tries against South Carolina a week earlier, converted four third downs en route to a 14-play, 99-yard drive. Ray Hudson took it in from 20 yards out. Hudson did a nifty job of putting a hand down to keep his balance on the run.
Bama's defense must have felt it was back against South Carolina when facing Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd. In what appeared to be a freelance offensive set of keepers and options and reverses, the Wilcats went 78 yards in 11 plays to a one-yard Boyd touchdown run. Taylor Begley kicked the extra point.
Kentucky drew first blood in the third quarter when the Wildcats caught Alabama in a blitz. On a second-and-17 play, Boyd threw back across the field to Jeremiah Drobney, who ran it in from 38 yards out and cut the Tide lead to 17-14.
But Alabama took advantage of opportunities to pull away from the Wildcats in the third period.
It appeared the first big break of the second half would go to Kentucky. Bo Freelend was back to punt and Kentucky's rush seemed sure to block it inside the Alabama 20. But Freelend pulled the ball down and went on a 23-yard run to a first down at the Alabama 45. Bama was not able to convert that into points, but changed field position.
"The guy made a nice move on our wing, Demarcus Waldrop. Demarcus has got to be little better there," Shula said. "Bo had great presence to make him miss and get the first down. That really helped to stop their momentum and get field position for us."
An irony is that the only reason Freelend was punting from the Alabama 22 was that the Tide had been called for a penalty and the Wildcats elected to force a second punt.
With Kentucky backed up and trying to pass, Bama defensive end Wallace Gilberrry caused a fumble and Cornelius Wortham covered it for Bama at the Kentucky five. On second down, Kenneth Darby went in from three yards out and Bama was back in front by 10 points at 24-14.
Kentucky's next possession resulting in a punting opportunity - and a punt-blocking opportunity for Bama's Anthony Madison. Alabama took over at the Kentucky 12 and Darby got his second touchdown of the quarter, going in from nine yards out. It was Alabama's second two-play scoring drive in just over a minute of play and gave the Tide a 31-14 lead going to the fourth quarter.
Begley kept Kentucky in touch with a 52-yard field goal after an Anthony Bryant sack had seemed to take the Wildcats out of scoring range. But 14 seconds later Alabama touched the Wildcats with a 100-yard kickoff return by Tyrone Prothro that put Bama up by 38-17.
Alabama's seventh 100-yard kickoff return in history was reminiscent of another 100-yard run back on the same field in 1973. Alabama was trailing Kentucky by 14-0 at halftime, but Willie Shelby's 100-yard touchdown return to start the second half ignited the Tide to a 28-14 win in a national championship season.
Kentucky mishandled a snap and Roman Harper recovered for Alabama at the Wildcats‚ 15. Prothro got 13 on an end-around, and then Castille got his second touchdown on Bama's third two-play scoring drive. Bostick's kick made it 45-17.
Gilberry caused his second fumble of the game and recovered it himself at the Kentucky 29 with just under 10 minutes to play, but Bama did not seem inclined to try to score. A group of back-up players had already taken over at most offensive and defensive positions - including tight end Greg McLain seeing his first duty of the year. There had been speculation McLain would be redshirted this year after suffering an elbow injury in the spring.
As the visiting team in an SEC game, Bama could dress only 70 players. Of those, 67 played. The only players dressed who did not get into the game were quarterbacks Guillon and walk-on freshmen Adam Thrash and A.J. Milwee.
As would be expected, Bama dominated thoroughly statistically. The Tide had 23 first downs (15 rush, 6 pass, 2 penalty) to 12 for UK (7 rush, 4 pass, 1 penalty). Bama had 63 running plays for 304 net yards running, Kentucky 28 runs for only 77 net yards. Pennington hit his first six passes of the game, then finished with seven completions in 11 attempts for 83 yards. Kentucky completed seven of 18 for 100 yards. There were no interceptions in the game, but the Wildcats lost three of five fumbles. Alabama did not fumble in the game. Bama had 74 total plays for 387 total yards, an averaged of 5.2 yards per play. Kentucky had 46 plays for 177 yards, 3.8 yards per play. Alabama was penalized only five times for 35 yards, while the Wildcats were flagged six times for 51 yards. Bama was able to convert eight of 16 third down plays (and one of two fourth down tries), while Kentucky could make only one of eight third down opportunities and also made its only fourth down attempt. Alabama had an extraordinary advantage in time of possession, 41:05 to 18:55.
Both Darby and Hudson finished with 99 net yards rushing, Darby on 20 carries, Hudson on 18. Caddell had two catches for 37 yards.
DeMeco Ryans had nine tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, and caused a fumble to lead Alabama defensively.