Linebacker Play Keys Tide Win

Alabama's linebacker corps was missing an outstanding player Saturday, but the Crimson Tide got excellent play from that position in an important victory. Just before halftime, an unusual play in which one Crimson Tide linebacker forced a fumble and another linebacker picked the ball off in mid-air and returned it for a touchdown ignited Bama to a 38-20 win over Kentucky in Lexington Saturday.

With the win, Alabama—ranked third in the nation—improved to 5-0 and to 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play. Kentucky, which has played the number one and number three teams in the nation on consecutive weeks, fought the good fight, but fell to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in conference games.

Alabama continues in SEC play and on the road next Saturday. The Crimson Tide will go to Ole Miss. Kickoff has been set for 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS.

Alabama was playing without Dont'a Hightower, the sophomore inside linebacker who was injured last week and lost for the year. But All-America middle linebacker Rolando McClain, jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and strongside linebacker Eryk Anders all had important takeaways against the Wildcats. McClain was involved in three takeaway plays for the defense.

The most important of those Kentucky turnovers came just before halftime. Alabama had just completed its first decent offensive possession of the first half to take a 14-6 lead with just 40 seconds remaining in the first half. On first down, Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline completed a short pass to tailback Derrick Locke. McClain immediately wrapped Locke up and punched the ball loose, into the air. Upshaw, who was inserted into the lineup because of the injury to Hightower, caught the ball at the 45 and dashed down the sidelines to the end zone for a touchdown. It came just 19 seconds after the previous touchdown and propelled Alabama to a 21-6 lead.

Kentucky would never get closer to Bama.

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McClain also had an interception that led to an Alabama touchdown and he tipped a batted ball to Anders for another interception, leading to a Leigh Tiffin field goal.

For the day, McClain had eight p;rimary tackles and assisted on four others. He had an interception, a forced fumble, a tipped pass, and a quarterback hurry.

Although the offense struggled at times, tailback Mark Ingram ran for a pair of touchdowns and quarterback Greg McElroy passed for two touchdowns. McElroy, who came into the game with 10 consecutive completions, started poorly, but finished with 15 completions in 26 attempts for 148 yards. Ingram ran 22 times for 140 yards.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban wants Alabama to start fast and finish strong. That was the story of the first half. Well, part of the story anyway. A big part of the story was Alabama's offensive ineptness and defensive softness through much of the first 30 minutes.

Bama got a fine start when Javier Arenas returned the game's opening kickoff 60 yards to the Kentucky 37 yard line. On first down, Greg McElroy passed incomplete trying for Julio Jones, but the Wildcats were guilty of a personal foul that moved the ball to the Kentucky 17. Mark Ingram gained six yards on first down. From the 11, Ingram started at right tackle, then bounced outside and into the end zone. The three-play, 38-yard drive had taken only 46 seconds. Tiffin kicked the first of his five extra points for a 7-0 Bama lead with less than a minute elapsed in the game.

Bama was poised to get off to a really good start when Mark Barron turned in an interception at the Kentucky 44, running it back to the Wildcats' 38. But McElroy missed on two passes and the Tide had to punt. Unlike that first possession of less than a minute that resulted in a touchdown, Alabama would have several first half possessions of three-and-out.

But all Kentucky could manage with its long possessions were a pair of first quarter 49-yard field goals by Lones Seiber that pulled the Wildcats to within 7-6.

Kentucky was also doing a good job of punting, twice pinning the Tide inside the Alabama five yard line. There was no reason to expect much when Alabama got the ball inside its three with 7:30 to play in the first half. Kentucky nearly took the lead on first down, dropping tailback Trent Richardson just inches from a safety. Richardson managed five yards for some breathing room. And then McElroy connected with his favorite target of the day, tight end Colin Peek. The 21-yard completion got the Tide out of a hole and started on a touchdown march. A holding call threatened to scuttle the drive, but Ingram had a 13-yard run and Julio Jones made a fine catch on a nine-yard bullet from McElroy for a first down. McElroy completed a 27-yard pass to Darius Hanks and a 21-yard pass to Earl Alexander for a first-and-goal at the six. Three plays later McElroy hit Peek for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

McElroy completed six of seven passes for 81 yards on the 13-play, 97-yard drive.

Bama had a 21-7 lead and momentum to start the second half, although Kentucky had the football at midfield. But not for long. On the Wildcats' second play from scrimmage, Hartline was intercepted by McClain, who returned the pick 22 yards to the Kentucky 38 yard line. On second down from the 32, Ingram took a handoff out of shotgun formation, hesitated a moment before stepping through traffic in the middle, and raced to the end zone with his second touchdown and a 28-6 Alabama lead. The "drive" had taken 55 seconds.

Two minutes later Bama had another interception. Hartline's pass bounced off his receiver, who was being covered by Marquis Johnson, and the ball went high in the air. McClain went up high, too, and tipped the ball towards the white jerseys of his teammates. Anders came down with the ball at midfield.

A pass to Peek for 17 and a 14-yard Ingram run made it appear the Tide was touchdown bound again, but the drive fizzled and Tiffin kicked a 36-yard field goal. With over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, Alabama had a 31-6 lead.

It took the Wildcats only 39 seconds to answer. Hartline found Randall Cobb just behind Arenas on a 45-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-13.

Alabama responded with a nice scoring drive, McElroy executing a perfect fade pass to Darius Hanks on a third-and-goal from the Kentucky seven for the touchdown. McElroy completed four passes for 34 yards and Roy Upchurch had a 10-yard run in the 13-play, 77-yard drive. It was 38-13.

Kentucky got the final touchdown, a two-yard run from Alfonso Smith capping a 16-play, 65-yard drive.

A little excitement remained in the final moments. Alabama seemed to have fouled up a 44-yard field goal attempt by Tiffin. After a delay of game penalty, holder P.J. Fitzgerald took the snap and ran for 17 yards and a first down at the Kentucky 15. Trying to run out the clock against Kentucky's stacked defensive front, Bama's final play was an attempt at a touchdown pass. McElroy hit Mike McCoy, but McCoy couldn't hold on.

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