Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide

Three takeaways from Kentucky football’s 49-21 loss to the No. 8-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at Kroger Field.

1. Kentucky just can’t hang with the elites

Big, bad Alabama scored on the game’s first possession to take a 7-0 lead with 9:38 left in the first quarter. Big, bad Alabama scored on a 40-yard pass play to go up 14-0 with 5:32 left in the first quarter. Big, bad Alabama cashed in on a Kentucky fumble to go up 21-0 with 5:12 left in the first quarter.

In other words, Kentucky was never really in the game Saturday. Hoping to make a better showing than it did in that 51-13 drubbing by No. 1-ranked and two-time defending national champion Georgia in Athens back on Oct. 7, Mark Stoops’ Cats were no match for Nick Saban’s Tide either.

By game’s end, Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe had thrown for 240 yards and three scores while also rushing for three touchdowns. Milroe completed 16 of 23 passes, including TD throws of 26, 40 and 26 yards. All three were to open receivers.

“That’s a very good football team,” Stoops said afterward. “It was a very impressive win by them.”

Kentucky is now a program that is 1-18 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 under Stoops. Sixteen of those 18 losses have come by double digits. Eight have come by 20-or-more points. Five have come by 30-or-more. In its last four meetings against top 10 teams, UK has lost by an average of 28.5 points.

Alabama wide receiver Kendrick Law (19) tries to elude a tackle by Kentucky’s Alex Afari (3) during the first half at Kroger Field on Saturday.
Alabama wide receiver Kendrick Law (19) tries to elude a tackle by Kentucky’s Alex Afari (3) during the first half at Kroger Field on Saturday.

2. Kentucky needs to improve its defense for 2024

For all the media focus on the Kentucky offense after last season, the major problem has been the UK defense. In a three-game stretch, the Cats allowed a combined 122 points to Georgia (51), Missouri (38) and Tennessee (33). After holding Mississippi State to a field goal in a 24-3 win last Saturday in Starkville, Kentucky sprung more leaks at Kroger Field.

One injury did not help Saturday. UK cornerback Andru Phillips, one of its best defenders in pass coverage, did not dress because of injury. Veteran safety Jalen Geiger has been playing through injury.

Alabama didn’t match Georgia’s 608 total yards. The Tide finished with 450. Still, the Tide averaged 6.2 yards per play and 11.2 yards per completion. Bama was also 7-of-11 on third down, which has been a persistent problem for the Cats all season. UK entered Saturday ranked 100th nationally in third down defense.

“We’ve tried different things,” defensive coordinator Brad White said in Saturday’s postgame. “It continues to be something we’re going to have to take a look at.”

Bottom line: The departures of players like Jordan Wright, DeAndre Square, Jacquez Jones, Carrington Valentine, Keidron Smith, Justin Rogers and others have collectively been more than this defense could withstand.

Surely a major offseason focal point for Stoops and Company will be canvassing the transfer portal for immediate help, plus recruiting and developing more young talent.

3. UK’s final two games are a tipping point

Now 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the league, the Cats finish with South Carolina in Columbia next Saturday and at Louisville on Nov. 25. Those are two tough games.

South Carolina is 4-6, but the Gamecocks trounced Vanderbilt 47-6 on Saturday. Shane Beamer’s club needs to beat UK and Clemson in its final two games to secure a bowl bid. Remember, South Carolina beat a Will Levis-less Kentucky 24-14 last season at Kroger Field. And if South Carolina wins next Saturday, it will tie UK at 3-5 in the conference.

Louisville improved to 9-1 with its 31-24 victory over visiting Virginia on Thursday night. Under first-year head coach and hometown hero Jeff Brohm, the Cards would love nothing better than to snap their four-game Governor’s Cup losing streak to their rival up the road. Snapping it in the friendly confines of L and N Stadium would be even sweeter.

Meanwhile, after starting the season 5-0, Kentucky is now faced with the the possibility of limping into a bowl game after a 6-6 regular season. Win the last two and Kentucky ends up 8-4 with a win over U of L. Lose both, and well . . .

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