‘Cats present first letdown opportunity for Tide

Published 7:18 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Alabama finds itself in an unfamiliar and, maybe, uncomfortable position this week after a 41-30 whipping of then-No. 3 Georgia.

The Crimson Tide has a lofty ranking (No. 2, the team’s highest ranking since 1993) and a perception as a national championship contender. With the perch, however, comes the possibility of a fall.

The Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) will spend the immediate future trying to avoid a letdown against an inferior opponent, a task that begins Saturday with a 2:30 p.m. visit from Kentucky that will be televised by CBS.

“It’s not human nature to be at your best all the time,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday during the SEC football coaches media teleconference. “It doesn’t take much [for a team to lose] because everybody is good and everybody can beat you if you don’t play your best.

“[Kentucky] is the kind of team you have to beat; they’re not going to beat themselves.”

The Wildcats, at 4-0 on the season, are difficult to overlook, though none of the wins have come against ranked or conference competition.

Alabama, meanwhile, has not trailed this season and has outscored opponents 74-0 in the first quarter.

“The important thing to me is how they’ve handled their road trips,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said at the teleconference. “To go on the road and dominate a team like Georgia…we’ve got a challenge ahead of us going into their place.

“It’s scary. It’s just one of the most impressive starts I’ve ever seen a team have. They’ve not only beaten people, they’ve destroyed them.”

Kentucky could have an advantage in one area: special teams. The ‘Cats rank first in the conference with a 38.5-yard average on kickoff returns, while ‘Bama is 10th in kickoff coverage and 11th in net punting.

“I don’t think we’re playing with the kind of intensity we need,” Saban said about the special teams units. “We’re not paying attention to the little things.”

But Brooks pointed out that Alabama’s kicking game saved the day in the Tide’s closest game of the season. Alabama scored on a blocked punt and on a punt return in a 20-6 win over Tulane on Sept. 6.

The game will be played at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, but Saban said that isn’t necessarily an advantage because the home team can come into the game with a “relaxed mindset.”

“You have to make it an advantage,” he said.