Believe it or not, the Alabama State Hornets are not a pushover team. They are an FCS team riding a 6 game win streak with an elite, and former SEC running back in Isaiah Crowell. Their defense gets after the QB for the entire game and makes plenty of stops behind the line of scrimmage. Add all that up and the Kentucky Wildcats are going to have their hands full. And if you think the solution to that defense is to start our running QB, Jalen Whitlow, think again. Not even Whitlow is buying that.
Alabama State’s defense rarely lets any quarterback get comfortable.
The Hornets will aggressively go after any player behind the line of scrimmage any chance they get.
“They’re going to bring six or seven quite a bit, probably more so than what we’ve seen,” UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Alabama State, a Football Championship Subdivision team that will be facing a Southeastern Conference school for the first time.
It’s been an effective plan this season for Alabama State, which has 38 sacks in eight games and a whopping 80 tackles for loss, paced by freshman linebacker Kourtney Berry, who has 70 tackles, including seven for a loss and five sacks.
By comparison, Clemson leads Football Bowl Subdivision schools with 73 tackles for loss and 29 sacks this season.
Senior linebacker Leland Baker, who has 141/2 tackles for loss and five sacks this season, quickly will do what he can to get acquainted with Whitlow.
“I’m just gonna go out there and try to win, make the right reads and get the ball out of my hands before the house gets there,” Whitlow said.
The sophomore quarterback said he was well aware of the Hornets’ aggressive attack. But he doesn’t focus on it.
“Just do what you’re coached to do,” he said. “Coach is going to put you in the right position.”
Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops isn’t buying that bull either.
The statistics don’t paint a pretty picture. And that’s why Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said his team can’t afford to overlook Alabama State when the Hornets visit Commonwealth Stadium for the first time this weekend.“I wouldn’t think our players would feel overconfident about anybody we’re playing,” Stoops said in his weekly news conference on Monday afternoon. “We’ve taken the approach (that) we’re worried about ourselves. I can see our players doing that. I think we’re trying to get better as a program. They (Alabama State) should be feeling good about themselves. They’ve won six games in a row.”
“I think they’re a very good football team, very well-coached team,” Stoops said. “I think they’re really solid in all phases of the game. I think offensively they do a really nice job of trying to keep you off balance. They run the ball very well. But again, they’ve got great balance. I want to say they’re rushing for close to 260 and throwing for close to 220, so they have balance. They put some pressure on you with the quarterback run game and spread you out and have some good athletes.”
But while Stoops acknowledged the Hornets’ leading tackler, middle linebacker Kourtney Berry, the name that every Kentucky player and coach knows is Crowell.“I know the name and have known him for a long time,” Stoops said. “We recruited him quite hard during my time at Florida State. I remember him. He was a fantastic player, one of the top players in the country coming out of high school, fantastic player, just very hard runner, elusive. For his size and strength, he’s elusive. He’s coming up on 1,000 yards already. And there’s quite a few players that are of that talent playing on this team that signed Division I scholarships, and for one reason or another, ended up there.”
While the Wildcats may have an edge in talent, the Hornets have the edge in confidence, riding a six-game winning streak into Commonwealth Stadium against a Kentucky team that has lost five straight. The Wildcats’ struggles show up statistically, where Kentucky ranks 104th among 123 FBS programs in total offense and 93rd in total defense, with Stoops looking for any type of spark to get his team going in the right direction.
“I think if you’ve noticed us as a program each week, no matter who we’re playing, I think we gave ourselves a real chance to go out there and compete and win that game, and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “This is the next game for us; therefore, it’s extremely important. I think anybody that thinks that we can just roll out there because we’re an SEC team and think you’re going to roll out there and win this game, you’re sadly mistaken. This team has won six games in a row, averaged over 40 points, very balanced, very well coached, I think, on all sides. They’ve got playmakers.”
Hornets head coach, Reggie Barlow is a confident man. His team is riding a 6 game win streak and is going against a bad team playing in a power conference. There are a lot of reasons that big time talents go to smaller schools or lower divisions and Barlow has been capitalizing on that as he relishes this shot to show what his team is capable of.
“Now we get a really good opportunity to see how you measure up against SEC guys,” Barlow said he told his team. “It’s the mindset or the approach of this is a great opportunity to see how you measure up, to have an opportunity to play against an SEC school.”
The Hornets have almost 20 players on their roster that either played for or initially signed to play for Football Bowl Subdivision programs and it didn’t work out for one reason or another. Schools like Florida, West Virginia and Missouri.
Those Division I transfers are sprinkled around the roster of a team that brings a high level of confidence into the game, having won six straight games with a balanced offense and a high-octane defense.