Cats need to focus on confidence Saturday against Alabama



By Alex Forkner | Football columnist

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Much is made of UK’s losing ways against conference foes like the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee, but no SEC team has been more dominant over the Cats than the University of Alabama.

In 38 games, the Crimson Tide has rolled the Cats 35 times. UK was victorious at home in a 6-0 barnburner in 1922 and the two teams played to a 7-7 tie in 1939 in Birmingham.

Football wasn’t exactly high octane back then, was it?

But in UK’s second and last victory in the series, a sophomore quarterback sporting a No. 2 jersey and running the Air Raid offense led the Cats to a 40-34 overtime victory, the first over Alabama in 55 years.

And the goal posts came down in Commonwealth Stadium.

On Saturday, another second year quarterback, wearing No. 2 and running a version of the Air Raid offense will try to lead UK to another victory.

But that’s where the parallels stop in this matchup.

Jalen Whitlow isn’t Tim Couch.

Couch was a pass-slinging savant who racked up 3,884 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in his sophomore year. Whitlow would have to average 484 yards passing and five touchdowns in the final seven games to match those numbers.

The offense has only just been handed over to Whitlow full time, and his performance against the University of South Carolina has inspired some optimism after poor offensive performances against the University of Louisville and Florida.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has taken notice.

“Really impressed me with the way he’s progressed through this season,” Saban said. “Every game, he’s played a little bit better.”

For the Cats to even compete on Saturday, which is really the best they can hope for, Whitlow will probably have to play perfect. Consider that Whitlow is from the state of Alabama and grew up liking Alabama. Also, his sister is a student at Alabama and hosts football recruits. And the rest of his family owns all sorts of Alabama gear.

Needless to say, when Whitlow takes the field against Alabama, it will be tough for him in a lot of ways.

“It’ll be an emotional night,” Whitlow said.

And Alabama’s defense is enough to bring any opponent to tears.

“They have no weakness in their defense,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said. “They don’t have any weakness on their team, as you can imagine with the No. 1 team in the country.”

Which bodes well for Whitlow and UK’s upset prospects, wouldn’t you say?

The focus of this game, for the entire team but especially for Whitlow, should be to build confidence. Since a win is about as likely as finding a winning Powerball ticket in a haystack, UK must make positive plays and avoid an embarrassing loss to keep the momentum of improvement going.

Sure, the field isn’t likely to be rushed, but that’s ok.

For this team, toppled goal posts aren’t the goal, per se. A win would be a miraculous and something to boost the program for years to come, but Stoops is just concerned with improvement.

“It’s just about us and our execution,” Stoops said. “We’re going to go out there to compete and play. It’s about putting one good play out there, then another. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We can control the things we can control, and we can execute better than we have been. That’s what we’re working on.”