"Now we have to have other guys step up," Mike Shula told sportswriters in his weekly teleconference Sunday. "Kenneth Darby will move up, Tim Castille will get more work at halfback, and Aaron Johns will probably see more action, too." Hudson had rushed for 99 yards and one touchdown when he was injured in the third quarter in Lexington Saturday. Alabama, a team depleted of scholarshipped players by three years of NCAA sanctions, was considered a squad that could ill afford key losses. Now Bama has had two of the most key, the top quarterback, Brodie Croyle, and the top runner, Ray Hudson, lost to knee injuries.
Hudson had rushed 92 times for 638 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry, and four touchdowns in Bama's first six games.
Shula said other than the injury, "It was a good win. Our team was ready to play. We came out focused."
The win improved Bama's record to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference games and broke a two-game losing streak.
Even though the offense had "a few more mental mistakes" early with missed assignments, Shula said the running backs made up for it with good runs, "making (Kentucky) guys miss. Then we got turnovers in the second half and took advantage of them."
Alabama recovered three Kentucky fumbles and turned two of them into short touchdown drives. Anthony Madison blocked a Wildcats' punt that led to a touchdown. All three of those touchdown "drives" were two-play possessions. Darby had two touchdown runs off those opportunities and Tim Castille, who also had a touchdown at the end of a first quarter 80-yard drive, had one. Before being injured, Hudson had a very good 20-yard run that capped a 14-play, 99-yard, seven-and-a-half-minute drive, and Tyrone Prothro had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Brian Bostick kicked six extra points and a 36-yard field goal (after his first field goal attempt was blocked, Kentucky's fifth blocked kick of the year).
And Shula said one of the biggest plays in the game may have been when Bama's punt protection broke down. Early in the third quarter Kentucky had cut the Alabama lead to 17-14 and the Wildcats had stopped the Bama offense for the second consecutive series. Bo Freelend punted, but Bama had been guilty of an illegal shift. Kentucky could have taken the ball at their own 40, but elected to have Bama punt again, hoping either for a block or a longer return. The Wildcats appeared to have the punt blocked, but the 6-4, 260-pound Freelend pulled the ball down, Bama's special teams players turned into downfield blockers, and Freelend ran for 24 yards and a first down. The drive didn't result in points. And it was the drive where Hudson was injured after an 11-yard run. But the Freelend play changed field position and momentum.
Shula said that special teams had been very important to the victory, the blocked punt and resulting touchdown coming when the game was close and the Prothro runback coming after Kentucky had cut the margin to 14 points early in the fourth quarter. "But," Shula said, "we also had a field goal blocked, we failed to down the ball inside the 20, and we had some penalties on special teams. And we could have had a punt blocked. When we were good we were very good, but when we were bad…"
Before the injury to Hudson, most of the interest in the game had been on the play of Spencer Pennington at quarterback. Pennington, the third team quarterback at the beginning of the season, started the game and went the distance for the Tide. He replaced Marc Guillon (who had replaced Croyle) when Guillon had back problems that prevented him from practicing during the week. Shula said Sunday that Guillon could have played if necessary.
The Tide coach complimented Pennington. "I think the main thing is that he played smart," Shula said. "He made good decisions. He didn't try to force the ball. And we were fortunate enough to run well, so we got some good looks down the field. The game should give him a lot of confidence to build on for this week."
He said Bama would continue to attempt to have a strong running game, which gives quarterbacks an opportunity to have success in the passing game.
With Hudson and Darby running for 99 yards each, the Tide managed 304 yards rushing on 63 runs. Pennington completed his first six passes, then finished with seven completions in 11 attempts for 83 yards. Bama had total offense of 74 plays for 387 yards, compared to Kentucky's 46 plays for 177 yards (100 passing, 77 rushing). That's why Alabama had an advantage in time of possession of 41:05 to 18:55.
Shula said that Pennington would almost certainly start Saturday when the Tide hosts nationally-ranked and undefeated Southern Miss. It will be homecoming for Alabama with kickoff Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CDT. Television coverage will be on a Pay-Per-View basis.
Southern Miss is 4-0 and Shula was quick to point out that the Golden Eagles had upset Nebraska in Lincoln earlier this year. Southern Miss is coming off an overtime victory over Houston in a game played last Thursday. That win proved costly for the Eagles as it has been announced that quarterback Dustin Almond suffered a hamstring injury and will not play against Bama. His place will be taken by Demion Carter.
Shula said the Tide would "take a good look at what they do and what they have done in the past with the second guy, then try to mesh what they have done with both. They are very productive with both quarterbacks. Southern Miss has always exemplified winning with a total team effort. Going back to when I was a player, I've known you have to be ready to play Southern Miss. They deserve their ranking (24th in Associated Press poll and 25th in Coaches Poll)."
He said the Southern Miss defense "is very effective. They give you a lot of looks and do a good job of creating confusion for your offense."
Alabama dressed 70 players for the game and 67 played. The only ones who did not play were quarterbacks Guillon and freshman walkons Adam Thrash and A.J. Milwee. One who did play was tight end Greg McLain, who had been expected by many to be redshirted. And after he played, there was speculation that McLain, Bama's starting fullback as a true freshman in 2002, might move back to fullback to help with running backs depth, but Shula said McLain would stay at tight end.
Asked what a team loses when it loses a Ray Hudson, Shula said, "Great explosion, outside speed, and catches the ball well out of backfield. He's dangerous anytime he gets the ball in his hands. I think Ken Darby can be that kind of guy, although he's not quite as fast as Ray. Coach Sparky Woods does a good job of mixing those guys in there. Now have to do it with Ken and Tim and Aaron. We have to continue to do things well. I think we have guys who can come in and play winning SEC football. Our offensive line and our defense have been good. Our job as coaches is to get the best guys on the field to help us win and then to give them the best chance to make winning plays."