(3) Alabama - 38, Kentucky - 20
- Tuscaloosa News
October 4, 2009

  Colin Peek
Alabama tight end Colin Peek (84) breaks through a tackle attempt by Kentucky safety Calvin Harrison.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- For most of a blustery first half, the Kentucky Wildcats had to feel like they had a chance to upset the No. 3 University of Alabama.

But in the space of little more than a minute, that chance was gone with the wind.

Alabama scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half, tacked on another in the first 77 seconds of the second half and pulled away for a 38-20 victory over the Wildcats. The win pushed Alabama to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC.

“That was really a tough game,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said.

“Kentucky was physical, probably the most physical team we’ve played. They ran the ball pretty well against us, better than teams usually do, and we had to overcome some adversity.”

Alabama got off to a fast start, set up by Javier Arenas’ 60-yard return of the opening kickoff to the UK 37. From there, Alabama needed just three plays to take the lead, scoring on Mark Ingram’s 11-yard run. That was the first of two touchdowns by Ingram, who rushed for 140 yards and two scores on the day.

After that, though, the Crimson Tide offense seemed to get mired, stymied by swirling winds and an aggressive Kentucky defense.

Before the first quarter ended, UK had added a pair of 49-yard field goals by Lones Seiber and trailed just 7-6. The Wildcats were also winning the field position battle and though the UA defense twice stopped UK despite good field position, the Wildcats were able to punt the Crimson Tide inside its own 5-yard-line on two different occasions.

It was the second of those possessions that may have defined the game.

With 7:30 remaining in the half, Ryan Tydlacka’s punt had pinned Alabama at its own 3. On first down, Crimson Tide tailback Trent Richardson was hit in the UA backfield and barely managed to push out of the end zone and avoid a safety. (UK fans booed the call lustily, although a replay supported the ruling on the field.)

That still left Alabama 99 yards-plus away from the Kentucky end zone, but the Crimson Tide offense suddenly seemed to find a rhythm.

On third-and-seven from the UA 6, McElroy found his favorite target of the day, tight end Colin Peek, for a 21-yard gain, giving the Crimson Tide some breathing room at the 27. After a holding penalty, UA converted a first-and-20 situation. Over the course of the drive, McElroy converted four third-down situations with accurate passes. The last of those, a three-yard throw to Peek, gave Alabama a touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the half.

“I think that was the turning point in the game,” Saban said. “We were having a tough time changing field position. Hitting the tight end (Peek) down the middle was a big play. That got us started and gave Greg some confidence.”

On its first play from scrimmage after UA’s squib kickoff, disaster struck UK. Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain punched the football from the grasp of UK running back Randall Cobb and Courtney Upshaw plucked the ball out of the air and went 45 yards for a touchdown that put Alabama ahead 21-6 at the break.

“We had that 21-6 lead with only one really good drive in the half,” Saban said. “In the second half, we were a little more effective.”

Another critical turnover — the third of four Kentucky turnovers in the game — put things essentially out of reach early in the third quarter. McClain intercepted a Hartline pass on the first UK possession of the third quarter, returning it to the UK 38. Two plays later, Ingram had a dazzling, shifty 32-yard touchdown run and Alabama led 28-6.

The Crimson Tide added a 36-yard Leigh Tiffin field goal and a seven-yard pass from McElroy to Darius Hanks for its remaining scores. UK scored twice, on a 45-yard pass from Hartline to Cobb and a short run by Alfonso Smith. That kept it close enough to keep Alabama from emptying its bench, but not close enough for its lead to ever seem imperiled.

McClain had an outstanding performance with 12 tackles, a caused fumble, an interception and a tipped pass that led to another interception.

The four turnovers committed by UK were insurmountable, according to the Wildcat head coach.

“The thing that eventually cost us the game was mistakes,” said Rich Brooks, whose team fell to 2-2, 0-2 in the SEC. “Four turnovers with no takeaways is not the formula you need to beat the No. 3 team in the nation.

“I thought we competed, but you can’t beat a great football team making the mistakes we made.”

Alabama will be back on the road next Saturday, playing Ole Miss in a 2:30 p.m. contest in Oxford.