No. 1 Alabama welcomes Kentucky after week of distractions
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — It hasn’t exactly been the kind of week-in-a-bubble Alabama coach Nick Saban would want before a Southeastern Conference game.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide has dealt with injury questions, a star player’s arrest and backup quarterback Blake Barnett leaving the team leading up to Saturday night’s game with Kentucky.
Alabama (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) remained a heavy favorite over the Wildcats (2-2, 1-1), who have won two straight since a rough start but lost on all nine previous trips to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Leading rusher Damien Harris, a Kentucky native who was heavily recruited by the Wildcats, has been nursing a sprained right ankle while receivers ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster sat out the Kent State game with knee injuries.
Coach Nick Saban announced Thursday that Barnett had left the program and withdrawn from school. That followed linebacker Tim Williams’ early Thursday morning arrest on a misdemeanor charge of carrying a pistol without a permit.
Saban said afterward that he would review the information before settling on any punishment.
The test coming off what he called Alabama’s most complete performance — a 48-0 win over Kent State — is to not let the off-the-field issues affect the performance.
“We played with a little better consistency throughout and we’ll certainly need it against an SEC opponent that has really played well the last two weeks,” Saban said. “It will be very challenging for us.”
Kentucky has presumably built confidence with wins over New Mexico State and South Carolina. The Wildcats haven’t beaten a ranked SEC team on the road since a 39-36 victory over No. 21 LSU in 1998.
This will be a huge test for a team with only 11 seniors on the roster, the fewest in the nation.
“I’m confident we’ll continue to push forward,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “I think our players are growing and it is what it is as far as our experience and what we have, especially defensively. They learn every time they take the field and every time we practice and we’ll continue to do that.”
Here are some things to watch in the Kentucky-Alabama game:
INJURY REPORT: Saban said Harris and Foster had both practiced by mid-week and Stewart had done some running.
“I can’t really tell you who could or who couldn’t play,” Saban said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think these will all be sort of right-before-the-game decisions relative to whether these guys will be ready to go or not.”
WILLIAMS’ STATUS: If Williams is held out for all or part of the game, it leaves the Tide without one of the team’s top pass rushers. He had 10.5 sacks last season off the bench and 1.5 through four games.
WHO’S NO. 2? Without Barnett, who started the opener against Southern California, either David Cornwell or Cooper Bateman is left to be ’Bama’s No. 2 quarterback. Bateman started the game against Mississippi last season while Cornwell hasn’t played.
JORDAN RULES: Sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones has been the constant on a Kentucky defense that had allowed 500 yards in each of its first three games before holding South Carolina to 268 in last week’s victory. Jones leads the SEC in tackles per game at 10.8 and his 43 stops rank ninth nationally. His tackle total through four games is the most since Danny Trevathan had 46 in 2011.
BOOM AND BENNY SHOW: Kentucky’s backfield tandem of junior Stanley “Boom” Williams and freshman Benny Snell Jr. try to continue their strong play against the SEC’s top run defense. They’ve combined for 513 yards rushing and six TDs the past two games. Williams ranks third in the conference at 116.0 yards per contest. Snell is tied for the SEC lead in rushing TDs with five, the most by a freshman through four games in school history.
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves contributed to this report.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org