Kentucky can get back to .500 against Alabama


Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Terry Wilson (3) walks the field before the Belk Bowl football game between Kentucky and Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. UK won 37-30. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

Do you see the Wildcats’ glass as half empty or half full?

Kentucky looks to keep its momentum going following the 38-35 victory over Vanderbilt last week as they prepare for Alabama this Saturday.

The Cats dominated the Commodores offensively, racking up 458 yards and five touchdowns. Their 38 points are their second most of the season.

After Terry Wilson’s performance, there’s no question who will start against the Crimson Tide. He did it all, going 13/15 for 110 yards and two touchdowns through the air while running for 83 yards and another score in just over three quarters of play.

Despite this, expect Joey Gatewood or Beau Allen to make appearances like they did in the fourth quarter versus Vandy. After the game, head coach Mark Stoops it “was important for the program” to get them some time on the field. Without much to play for as the year winds down, it makes sense to see what the main contenders for next year’s quarterback gig are capable of.

Gatewood has played in pieces of four games this year, mostly in garbage time. His lone start came against a Georgia team that boasts the top defense in the SEC. It’s hard to garner much from his numbers – 109 yards passing on 17 completions over 30 attempts, and 57 rushing yards across 24 carries – because of that, but a limited playbook undoubtedly contributed to the modest totals.

When Allen entered the Commodore contest, we saw a shift in play-calling from offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. Each of the Lexington Catholic product’s opening passes came on designs to push the ball down field – which fans have been begging for more of – and he connected; first with Michael Drennen for 14 yards, then Keaton Upshaw for 20.

This transition may be an indication of confidence in the freshman and potentially signals who the Cats consider to have the edge for 2021.

Shifting back to the Vanderbilt game, Christopher Rodriguez Jr. again demonstrated he should be the No. 1 option at running back for Kentucky, scampering for 149 yards while finding paydirt twice, including on the game-sealing 74-yard score.

Upshaw – two receptions, 41 yards and a TD – and DeMarcus Harris – four catches, 33 yards – each took on larger roles, and Justin Rigg hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass. Spreading the wealth on that side of the ball is something Kentucky has struggled with, so watching them do so successfully was refreshing.

Kentucky’s defense on the other hand didn’t have its sharpest outing. The unit gave up 29 first downs, 407 yards and five touchdowns to Vanderbilt. If they can’t tighten up, it’ll be a long day at Bryant-Denny Stadium; the Alabama offense is almost impossible to contain.

With Heisman Trophy candidate Mac Jones – a former Kentucky commit – at quarterback behind a fantastic offensive line, several NFL-bound skill position players, the Cats must have a perfect game to limit the scoring output.

On the defense, linebacker Dylan Moses is regarded as one of the nation’s best linebackers. He’s a sure-fire first round NFL draft pick and has been dominating offenses, leading his unit with 50 tackles.

Combined with a powerful defensive line and ball-hawking defensive backs, Kentucky will have its work cut out.

Regardless, the Cats will come out trying to fire on all cylinders. They don’t have anything to lose, and discover who their signal-caller will be for future seasons.

Kickoff in Tuscaloosa is set for Saturday at 4:00 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

UPDATE (11/21 10:25 ET): Kentucky will be missing a significant number of players for  including Jamin Davis and Chris Rodriguez, because of COVID/contact tracing and other injuries. Read more here.