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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Top-ranked Alabama's latest blowout win included enough mistakes to concern coach Nick Saban and his players.
The Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) steamrolled Kentucky 48-7 on Saturday night, but only after an error-prone start featuring turnovers and dropped passes for the two-time defending champions.
What gnawed at defensive players more than allowing their first touchdown in four games was letting the Wildcats drive 75 yards for the score. Even though the Crimson Tide had a commanding 31-0 lead in the middle of the third quarter, Alabama players were disappointed in their efforts.
They say the breakdowns in an otherwise stellar performance are examples of where improvement is needed. There will be a quality control review of the mistakes this week by Alabama, focusing on improving execution before beginning a three-game homestand against Arkansas on Saturday.
"We made a lot of plays; we made a lot of explosive plays," Saban said after the Crimson Tide outgained Kentucky 668-170. "Everybody has to be accountable to do their role so we can be the best team we can be. I think we're a better team now than we were (before the game).
"We're making improvements, but I still think there are things we need to continue to work on."
The coach was pleased to see his team close strong by scoring on its last eight possessions and make program history by having a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard rushers in the same game.
Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake ran for 124 and 106 yards, respectively, and two touchdowns each. Senior quarterback AJ McCarron completed 21 of 35 passes for a career-high 359 yards and a 20-yard TD to Kevin Norwood.
Those performances followed first-quarter mistakes resulting in the Crimson Tide's first scoreless period this season.
Drake and Yeldon each fumbled on consecutive possessions deep in Kentucky territory, the latter proving especially costly as he coughed up the ball inside the 5. A wide open Kenny Bell dropped McCarron's pass across the middle, the first of a handful of flubs by Alabama receivers.
"That was definitely something we weren't expecting, but it happened and we've got to live with it," said Norwood, who set up the Crimson Tide's first touchdown by a catching a 42-yard pass down the middle in double coverage.
"At the same time we've got to do better with it, especially the ball handling and receivers catching the ball."
Though Alabama quickly regrouped with a 24-point second quarter, Saban still let players have it about the turnovers at halftime. His message got through: tailbacks held on to the ball and put the game out of reach en route to 299 yards rushing.
"I thought both guys ran well," Saban said of Yeldon and Drake. "We haven't had a lot of turnovers this year and we haven't fumbled the ball a lot. That's something we really don't ever need to have happen and I think if our guys want to be the best, those are the kind of things they have to eliminate."
At first glance, Alabama's defensive showing should have given the SEC's second-ranked unit something to gloat about in posting four sacks and allowing Kentucky to convert just 2-of-12 third down chances. Instead, players say they are more motivated after giving up their first TD in four games.
Facing Kentucky backup quarterback Maxwell Smith after Jalen Whitlow exited with a left ankle injury, Alabama allowed the Wildcats to mount a nine-play, 75-yard drive ending with Smith's 30-yard TD pass to Javess Blue. The sequence didn't set well with a defense that had shut out then-No. 21 Ole Miss two games ago and entered having allowed just three field goals in as many games.
To be sure, Alabama isn't going to agonize about those mistakes when it dominated others area. But the breakdowns are reminders that the Crimson Tide have flaws to be corrected with an upcoming schedule featuring Arkansas, Tennessee and No. 6 LSU.
"At the end of the day, we want to make all our goals and really wanted to shut out this game," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "The reason we didn't was because we didn't execute the right way, so some of those plays we've got to make sure we work on."