Alabama Scouting Report

The good news for Kentucky is that Alabama is not Florida. The bad news is that Alabama is a very fine football team. The Wildcats didn't get a break from the Southeastern Conference schedule-makers, other than the games being at home. No. 1 Florida followed by No. 3 Alabama is no bargain.

The good news for Kentucky is that Alabama is not Florida. The bad news is that Alabama is a very fine football team. The Wildcats didn't get a break from the Southeastern Conference schedule-makers, other than the games being at home. No. 1 Florida followed by No. 3 Alabama is no bargain.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban will bring a deep and talented team to Lexington for Saturday¹s SEC battle against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Crimson Tide is a different team than the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators who jumped on UK last week. Like Florida, Alabama has a fast, strong defense. Bama¹s offense has been efficient, and has shown the ability to strike quickly.

While this will be the first true road trip of the year for Alabama, the Crimson Tide prepared to some extent with a neutral site game in Atlanta to start the season, beating Virginia Tech, 34-24, in a battle of top ten teams. The only thing close in the game was the score as Bama dominated in every way. Alabama handled a couple of non-conference foes with relative ease, then had a surprisingly one-sided 35-7 win over Arkansas last week to run the Tide record to 4-0.

Unlike last year when Alabama moved from a pre-season ranking barely in the top 25 to number one late in the season, this year¹s Crimson Tide was expected to be good in Saban¹s third year. That doesn¹t mean there weren¹t questions. Most of those questions concerned a rebuilt offense, and most have been answered satisfactorily from a Bama standpoint.

Alabama has had a lot of fine quarterbacks in its history. John Parker Wilson set virtually every career passing record in his three years at the helm. Junior Greg McElroy took over this season and in his first three games broke two all-time Alabama records ­ completing 14 consecutive passes against Florida International and completing 86.7 per cent of his passes (13-15) against North Texas. After out-dueling Arkansas¹s Ryan Mallett last week, McElroy is getting national attention. He enters the Kentucky game having completed his last 10 passes, one of them an 80-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze that is the sixth longest in Bama history.

There were also concerns about tailback after Glen Coffee left early for the NFL. Alabama boasts two of the SEC¹s top seven rushers with Mark Ingram averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 86.8 yards per game and leading the SEC in scoring and freshman Trent Richardson averaging 7.4 per carry and 71.7 per game.

Bama¹s best receiver, Julio Jones, has been sidelined part of this season with a bruised knee, but was back last week and had a 50-yard touchdown reception. While he was on the sidelines, McElroy completed passes to a dozen different receivers.

The offensive line had to be rebuilt with Bama losing left tackle Andre Smith, winner of the Outland Trophy, and All-America center Antoine Caldwell. With Alabama averaging nearly 500 yards and 40.5 points per game, the big uglies must be doing the job.

Alabama operates from numerous formations. McElroy is sometimes under center and sometimes in shotgun. The Tide also uses the Wildcat and Pistol formations. Bama uses two, three and four wide receiver sets and one and two tight ends and sometimes uses a fullback. In short yardage situations massive nose tackle Terrence Cody (6-5, 355) often is inserted at fullback to block.

Alabama took a big hit on defense last week when inside linebacker Dont¹a Hightower was lost for the season with a knee injury. Still, Bama has defensive stars.

The front line is anchored by Cody, known to Tide fans as ³Mount Cody.² He was All-America last year and has improved this season. He¹s flanked by ends Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick, a three-year starter and native of Elizabethtown, Ky.

A point of emphasis for the defense this year was to improve its pass rush. Alabama ranks second in the league with 13 sacks (for 104 yards) in its first four games.

All-America Rolando McClain at middle linebacker heads a corps of very fine linebackers in Bama¹s regular 3-4 alignment.

The biggest question on defense was at safety, where three-year starter and All-America Rashad Johnson had been graduated. Johnson was not just a fine player, he was also the team leader. The position is now in the hands of hard-hitting sophomore Mark Barron, the only newcomer to the Alabama starting secondary.

Alabama leads the SEC in rushing defense and total defense. The Tide expects opponents to attack by air and Bama is often in either nickel or dime schemes.

Special teams have been mostly good for Alabama this year, particularly in punt returns where Javier Arenas, a pre-season All-America return man, leads the SEC. Senior punter P.J. Fitzgerald is having an excellent season. Leigh Tiffin was pre-season All-SEC placekicker and has been good on 8-10 field goals with a long of 59. He ranks third all-time at Alabama in field goals. The Achilles heel has been kickoff coverage as Bama has given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

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