Despite the early kickoff, Nick Saban’s football team came out firing on all cylinders and quickly jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Quarterback Jalen Milroe shined once again for the Tide with six total touchdowns on the day.
Defensively, Alabama handled the Wildcats throughout the contest holding Kentucky to just 253 yards of total offense.
Following the win, Coach Saban would speak to the media about his team’s performance. Below is everything he had to say:
“So, 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 the team, a lot of guys have made significant improvement because they’ve stayed positive and stayed the course in terms of listening to what the coaches have to say about what they needed to do to improve and actually have really good relationships with each other on the 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, each position. Each leader at each position. And I told them before the game I trusted that they would go out and do that and that’s exactly what they did. So I trust in these guys, that they’re going to do the right things, make good choices and decisions, which is going 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 West, and have an opportunity to play in the SEC Championship Game, which I’m very happy for this team that they were able to accomplish that. I think there’s very few people after the Texas game or South Florida game, a lot of naysayers out there never really believed in these guys, but I always believed in this team and trusted in this team that they would develop into something that’s special and it has been special. It’s been a great experience to see them grow and develop in the confidence that you need to really play really, really well. I think they were so excited about the fact – a couple guys came up to me – I always talk about when we play on the road if you empty the stadium that means you really beat the other team. So, a couple guys – I didn’t use that in this game, but they certainly got the message and said ‘hey coach, look around’. I’m pretty proud of them, the way we played today and obviously there’s some things that we can correct and fix. We made some errors that – obviously we busted on the 60-yard run at the end of the game when we put the twos in there, but these are all learning experiences that these guys will have an opportunity to get better at. Jalen played really well. I thought the offense came out and set the tempo of the game extremely well. He played extremely well, the whole idea was the way they play on defense is take what the defense gives and we nickel and dimmed the first couple drives and then we hit a couple big plays, so I thought they did a great job on offense and it was a great team win for us.”
On how he has seen this Alabama football team build its resiliency
“Well, I guess that’s what I was trying to explain, but these guys have had great perseverance, shown resiliency, been able to – you’ve heard me say this before ‘manage hard’. Whenever things got hard, they’ve always seemed to come up with, we can come back in the game when we’re behind 20-6, we can make plays when we need to make them. So I think that comes from confidence, but I think it comes from believing in each other and believing in what you’re doing and coaches have also done a really good job of selling the players on ‘if you do it this way, you’re going to have success’.”
On the importance of the defense stepping up and stopping the run
“Well I think that was the key to the – because they’re such a physical team, I think that was like our number one objective. I think we wanted to make them one-dimensional. I think we did except for the last run, where we didn’t have any run support on that side. I think it was really important that we won on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
On the challenge of coaching this year's team
“You know, it’s been fun. It really has been fun to see. I think that it seems like every team we’ve had in recent years there’s these huge expectations and you never want the expectations to impact you, but because there were such high expectations there was almost like you were relieved to get the players to where they needed to be so they could have success. With this team, I didn’t have those kinds of expectations. I knew we could be good. I believed in them, but I knew it was going to be a work in progress. So it was like everyday you’re just trying to teach lessons that will help them grow and develop and they’ve done a great job with that and it’s been fun and I didn’t put any expectations on them or myself and they’ve sort of blown it out of the water in terms of how well they’ve done.”
On staying with Kool-Aid McKinstry as the punt returner
“Stay with him? What do you mean? Stay with him? What would you do with him? I love the guy. I think he’s a good returner. Look, the gunner on that side ran into him. When he missed the punt, that’s the gunner’s responsibility. You can’t look up and catch a ball and worry about somebody that’s running down the field blocking for you running into you. He tried to fair-catch the ball. I’ve got every confidence in the world, he’s been a good player for us. 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 it. You don’t get easy balls to field, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground to catch it. That launch point of where he’s catching it changes for the people that are blocking for him. So I’m not making excuses for anybody, but you can’t blame him for that one in my opinion. But I think that he great job on the one return and it was to see us get one off to a big play.”
On the current injuries, how players stepped up
“Yeah, well we had more guys out today than probably ever before with Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton. Jermaine is just sick, he was so sick he couldn’t even make the trip. Hopefully, he’ll get better and that won’t be a long term thing. Ja’Corey’s got a shoulder. Jaylen Key everybody knows, he’s got a thigh injury, it’ll be day-to-day again this week. Same thing with Lawson. So 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 and we had to shift some guys around in the secondary. But I thought Trez Marshall, who has been hurt himself did a good job today and so did Jihaad and those guys got some valuable experience and that’s going to help us down the road I think having diversity in terms of how we can play players.”
On not having explosive plays, nickel and diming Kentucky
“Yeah, I think that’s important. In fact, I think there’s a couple times when we threw the ball down the field when if we would have stayed with that just take what they give you we probably would have moved the chains, but I thought we did a really good job overall of taking advantage of that. But look, a five-yard pass is just as good as a five-yard run. On second-and-five you can keep things moving. So we did a good job on third-down again today and kept the ball quite a bit so I think that was a real positive for us.”
On Jalen Milroe 's play following the bye week
“You’d have to ask him, if the BYE-week…I don’t know if he took some Geritol or what, but that’s my medicine, that I use, us old folks. No, you’d have to really ask him. I mean, I thought he was playing well before the BYE week. Obviously the BYE week helps a lot of players to sort of recalibrate, self-assess 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 during a BYE week, so you can focus on what you need to do, so I think that’s a good thing for all players, but I think his confidence is growing and that has the confidence of the players around him has grown and our production in performance has sort of mirrored that confidence.”
More Alabama-Kentucky post-game content
Contact/Follow us @RollTideWire on X (Twitter), and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Alabama news, notes, and opinion. You can also follow Stacey Blackwood on X (Twitter) @Blackwood89.