The Crimson Tide took control early, establishing a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and never looked back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe finished with three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns in the Alabama rout.
The victory improves Alabama to 9-1 on the season (7-0 in SEC play) and clinched the SEC West title for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama remains in the running for yet another College Football Playoff appearance.
Alabama is now 39-2-1 all-time against UK. This includes a 16-2 mark against Kentucky in Lexington. The Crimson Tide have won eight straight games over the Wildcats.
Postgame, Alabama head coach Nick Saban (now 9-0 in his head coaching career against UK) talked about everything from his team avoiding the “rat poison” of outside attention to the development of Milroe throughout the season.
Here’s everything Saban said following the Alabama win:
Look, I’m really proud of this team. This team has come a long way, these guys have worked hard. There’s great togetherness, good leadership on this team.
A lot of guys have made significant improvement. ... They’ve stayed positive, they’ve stayed the course in terms of listening to what the coaches have to say about what they need to do to improve and actually have really good relationships with each other on this team.
So, I was really pleased that the team didn’t buy into the ‘rat poison,’ or whatever you want to call it. I thought this was a little bit of a trap game and I actually asked the players yesterday in the team meeting to stand up and say what they had to do at each position. ...
And I told them before the game that I trusted them that they would go out and do that, and that’s exactly what they did. I trusted these guys that they’re going to do the right things and make good choices and decisions to help them continue to grow and develop as a team, and hopefully finish business throughout the rest of this season in terms of what we have to do to continue to get better and see if we can create an opportunity for ourselves.
Obviously it’s great that we won the SEC West and have an opportunity to play in the SEC championship game. I’m very happy for this team that they were able to accomplish that. I think there’s probably very few people after the Texas game or the South Florida game, a lot of naysayers out there who never really believed in these guys, but I’ve always believed in this team and trusted in this team that they (could) develop into something special and it has been special. It’s been a great experience to see them grow and develop and the confidence that you need to play really, really well.
They were sort of excited about the fact, a couple guys came up to me. ... I always talk about when you play on the road, if you empty the stadium that means you really beat the other team. So a couple of guys — and I didn’t use that in this game — but they certainly got the message, and (they) said, ‘Hey Coach, look around.’
So I’m pretty proud of the way they played today and obviously there’s some things we can correct and fix, we made some errors that obviously we busted on the 60-yard run at the end of the game with the (backups) in there. These are all learning experiences and these guys have an opportunity to get better at.
Jalen played pretty well, I thought. The offense started the game out and set the tempo of the game extremely well. He played extremely well. The whole idea, the way they play on defense, is to take what the defense gives and (we) nickel-and-dimed them in the first couple drives and hit a couple big plays.
Thought we did a great job on offense and great team win for us.
Q. About Jalen Milroe and Alabama’s resiliency this season.
These guys have had great perseverance. Shown great resiliency, been able to ... manage hard. When things got hard, they always seemed to come up with ‘We can come back in the game. We’re behind in the game 7-6, we can come back, when we’re behind 20-6 we can make plays when we need to make them.’
I think that comes from confidence, but I also think that comes from belief in each other and belief in what you’re doing. (Our) coaches have also done a really good job of selling the players on ‘Hey, if you do it this way, you’ll have success.’
Q. On the importance of Alabama’s defense stopping the Kentucky run game.
I think that was the key to the drill. Controlling the line of scrimmage, in this game, against this type of team, who prides themselves on being a physical team, I think was like our number one objective.
I think we wanted to make them one-dimensional, and we did, except for the last run when we didn’t have any run support on that side. But, I think it was really important that we won on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Q. On the challenges of coaching up this specific Alabama team.
You know, it’s been fun. It really has been fun to see. ... It seems that everybody has these huge expectations and you never want the expectations to impact you. But because there are such high expectations, it was almost like you were relieved to get the players where they needed to be so they could have success.
With this team, I didn’t have those kind of expectations. I knew that we could be good, I believed in them, but I know it was going to be a work in progress. So it was like every day you’re just trying to teach lessons that will help them grow and develop. And they’ve done a great job of that and it’s been fun and I didn’t put any expectations on them or myself and they (have) sort of blown it out of the water in terms of how well they’ve done.
Q. About keeping Kool-Aid McKinstry back for punt returns after an early fumble.
I love the guy. He’s a great returner. Look, the gunner on that side ran into him when (McKinstry) missed the punt. I mean, that’s the gunner’s responsibility. You can look up and catch the ball and worry about somebody who is running down the field blocking for you running into you. He tried to fair catch the ball.
I got every confidence in the world (in McKinstry). He’s been a good player for us, and I just think the players around him have to do a little bit better job because when you get these ‘radical punts’ I’m going to call them, you don’t get like easy balls to field, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground to catch it. And that launch point of where he’s catching it changes for the people blocking for him.
I’m not making excuses for anybody, but you can’t blame him for that one, in my opinion. And I think that he did a great job of sticking it up the middle, we ran mostly middle returns today, so it was good to see us get one off (for) a big play.
Q. About persevering through injuries and an injury update.
We had more guys out today then probably ever before with Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton. Jermaine is just sick, I mean he was so sick he couldn’t even make the trip. Hopefully, he’ll get better and it won’t be a long-term thing. Ja’Corey’s got a shoulder, Jaylen Key everybody knows has got a thigh injury, it’ll be day-to-day with him this week. Same thing with (Deontae) Lawson.
We’ll just have to see how it goes, but I was really pleased with the way the guys that filled in today and took their place, we had to shift guys around in the secondary. ... Those guys got some valuable experience. ...
Q. About not just relying on explosive plays to beat Kentucky.
I think that’s important. In fact, there were a couple throws where, we threw the ball down the field, that if we had stayed with that ‘take what they give you’ we probably would have moved the chains.
But I thought we did a really good job overall with taking advantage of that. But look, a 5-yard pass is just as good as a 5-yard run. ... We did a good job on third down, again today, kept the ball quite a bit, so I think that was really a positive for us.
Q. On how the bye week helped Jalen Milroe.
You’d have to ask him if the bye week (helped). I don’t know if he took some Geritol or what (laughter). That’s my medicine.
You’d have to really ask him. I thought he was playing really well before the bye week. Obviously the bye week helps a lot of players sort of recalibrate, self-asses how they’re playing, be able to work on some of the things that have been issues or problems for them, which helps them improve.
You don’t have the pressure of another game plan on your bye weeks, you can kind of focus on what you need to do, so that’s probably a good thing for all players. I think his confidence has grown and the confidence of the players around him has grown. And our production and performance has sort of mirrored that confidence.