The Champs: One must tip the cap to a team as talented as Alabama. No matter what transpired Saturday night, Kentucky was not going to win that game. Alabama could have pulled a "Florida 1993" and fumbled seven times in the red zone (instead of two) and it would not have made a difference in the final result. Crimson Tide Head Curmudgeon Nick Saban may have suffered a stroke on the sideline under those conditions, but his exceptionally well-coached team still would have won comfortably. Alabama was the best and most complete team I've seen in person at Commonwealth Stadium in more than 25 years following the Wildcats, and that includes three recent national champions (Auburn 2010, Alabama 2009, LSU 2007). The defending champs are known for their defense, but the scary part of this year's model is how strong they are on the offensive side of the ball, where they ripped the Cats for 668 yards. They have an experienced and gifted quarterback in A.J. McCarron, a massive O-Line that resembles and NFL unit, and a ridiculously-deep stable of skilled players. Oregon is causing quite a stir again out West, but I'd be shocked if the Ducks can go toe-to-toe with this Bama team. It's operating on a whole different level than the rest of the Top 10.
Beaten But Not Broken: The Cats came out of this game battered and bruised, but you have to be impressed with the way the players continue to fight for this staff. There's no quit in them or the coaches, regardless of what the scoreboard reads. The four-game stretch that UK just completed (No. 7 Louisville, No. 19 Florida, No. 13 South Carolina, No. 1 Alabama) would have broken many teams in the past. It's a credit to the players and staff that they keep plugging against the odds. And it paid off with a nice moment in the third quarter when the Cats became the first team in almost a month to score a touchdown against the stingy Tide defense. Max Smith's 30-yard TD pass to Javess Blue was the only one this season against Alabama that did not include Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
It's Over: The roughest four weeks in UK football history came to an end Saturday night. It was somewhat fitting that it culminated against No. 1 Alabama, but the old saying suggests the darkest hour is just before dawn. The Wildcats may have a chance to be competitive in the second half of the schedule, a "new season" as the staff is selling it. It would be nice to see this group of players rewarded for their resilience with a couple of previously-unexpected Ws.
Atmosphere: Thanks in part to epsn2 picking up the game and creating a Keeneland-Kentucky doubleheader on a day of impeccable weather, the tailgating and crowd at Commonwealth Stadium was the best many have experienced in years. A big part of that was also due to the huge invasion of colorfully-clad Bama fans, who could be found at almost every tailgate and every section in the stadium as part of the season-high crowd of 69,873. I think the UK and Bama fans have a bit of kinship when it comes to dominating the college basketball and football worlds, respectively, for decades.
Grounded: If you asked the typical Kentucky fan prior to the season what things might look like for the Cats in 2013, I think he or she would have predicted a rough year in the win/loss column, but a lot of excitement due to the return of the "Air Raid" offense. It hasn't happened. Kentucky has struggled to move the ball through the air, and things may have taken a turn for the worse Saturday when starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow went down with a serious ankle injury on UK's sixth play of the game. That forced Max Smith into the game, who does not appear to be anywhere near 100 percent health. Combine that with a shaky protection from the O-Line and more drops from the UK receiver corps, and you've got a nightmare for offensive coordinator Neal Brown. An objective viewer can't really criticize him too much. The sirens may be back at Commonwealth Stadium, but the pieces just aren't there to run Air Raid 2.0.
Officiating: It had little impact on the result of the game, but for the second consecutive week, an SEC officiating crew had a glaring oversight during a game involving Kentucky. (Last week, the league had to apologize to Mark Stoops for two blown calls in the South Carolina game.) This crew missed a blatant personal foul against Alabama lineman Arie Kouandjio at the end of a second quarter play when he speared UK safety Ashely Lowery in the back with the crown of his helmet. Had Kouandjio been a defensive player in that situation – and heaven forbid he struck the quarterback – he would have been ejected from the game and facing a possible suspension the following week. The officials and rules-makers need to protect all 22 players on the field, not just the so-called "skilled" players on offense.
By The Numbers:
2 – Third-down conversions by Kentucky on 12 attempts, dropping the Wildcats' season rate to 26 percent (18 of 70).
4.2 – Yards gained per passing attempt by UK.
8 – Plays for no gain or minus yardage by the Cats, roughly 15 percent of UK's offensive plays.
11 - Consecutive losses for Kentucky in SEC play.
34 – Number of plays UK ran without crossing into Alabama territory.
35 – First downs for the Crimson Tide. Thirty-five!
49 – Snaps for the Alabama offense in the first half. UK had only three more the entire game.
71 – As in Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound future NFL lineman is representative of the biggest difference between UK and the SEC elite right now. The Cats must continue to get better up front with "big uglies" who play with a mean streak.
668 – Total offense for the Tide, the highest figure posted against UK since Tennessee did it with Peyton Manning at quarterback in 1997.