Alabama football beats Kentucky at its own fast tempo and at the Wildcats' slow tempo

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

A quick defensive stop and a touchdown gave Alabama football a 7-0 lead 10 plays into Saturday’s game against Kentucky. From there, the Wildcats’ plan kicked in.

From that point on, Kentucky dominated possession in the first half, holding the ball for almost all of the final 10 minutes of the first quarter and most of the second quarter, too, taking 20:40 of possession in the first half. Alabama found its rhythm on a different beat, maintaining offensive efficiency and improving defensively in a 63-3 win.

“That’s the game they were going to play: run the ball, shrink the game, try to minimize the number of possessions we have on offense,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “It was going to be really important we control the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t do that early in the game.”

The time of possession was ultimately the only statistic Kentucky gained in its efforts.

Nov 21, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama defensive lineman Byron Young (47) tackles Kentucky running back JuTahn McClain (17) for a loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s first success in this method was an eight-play, 58-yard drive that stalled in the red zone, largely due to a holding penalty. The Wildcats settled for a field goal and forced a quick punt to start a 12-play drive that reached the UA 6.

An errant snap on the ensuing field goal attempt proved to be the beginning of the end.

Alabama's offense took the field with 12:04 left in the second quarter — having last been on it with 3:34 left in the first quarter — and promptly marched 75 yards in five plays to score. A three-and-out led to a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive.

The two drives combined lasted 3:11.

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“Throughout the week, that was the whole message: they were going to run the ball, chew clock and we just had to be ready the whole time,” wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. “It was nothing we didn’t expect.”

The defense met the offense’s standard. Kentucky’s last nine possessions featured 25 plays that gained 34 yards. The only possession that did not end by the clock expiring or punt was a pick-6 from safety Jordan Battle.

“I don’t think any of us were gassed, I think it was about us reading our keys and having good eyes on the plays,” Battle said. “Once we started getting comfortable and started using our eyes, we started reacting much better. I feel like none of us were really fatigued, we just had to use our eyes more disciplined.”

Playing the role of the time of possession contradictor showed just how far Saban has evolved in recent seasons. Not that long ago, UA was the team that took pride in dominating the tempo of games, particularly with punishing rushing attacks, ones that made life easy on its defense. Now Saban’s teams are the ones scoffing at time of possession as a statistic of value.

“The last time I checked, you get nothing for time of possession,” Saban said. “If you score fast on offense, you don’t have very much time of possession; if you you keep the ball for six minutes and you don’t score, what do you get for that? You get zero.”

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