Coffee runs No. 2 Alabama past Kentucky, 17-14

Published 6:29 pm Saturday, October 4, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Alabama discovered how precarious life at the top can be, sidestepping what could have been another top-five upset with a bruising drive and a late field goal.

Glen Coffee rushed for 218 yards, Leigh Tiffin kicked a 24-yard field goal with 2:12 left to put the Crimson Tide up 10, and No. 2 Alabama survived and advanced in the national title chase with a 17-14 win over Kentucky on Saturday.

Playing with its best national ranking in 15 years, the Tide survived three turnovers, a season-high 10 penalties, and a sputtering passing game a week after racing to a 31-0 halftime lead at Georgia.

The outcome, at least, was something coach Nick Saban could be happy with after top-five teams Georgia, Florida and Southern California were toppled last weekend.

“We’re certainly happy to win but we also put on a clinic today for how to keep the other team in the game,” Saban said.

Coffee and the Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) pounded out a 15-play drive from their own 17-yard line to set up the clinching field goal. Coffee gained 57 yards on nine carries on the drive, which consumed 8:10.

Tiffin, who had missed two earlier kicks, drilled this one for a 17-7 lead, and the points proved necessary. John Parker Wilson had converted a fourth-and-1 with a quarterback sneak from the Kentucky 46 to keep the drive alive.

The Wildcats (4-1, 0-1) weren’t done yet. Mike Hartline hit DeMoreo Ford streaking down the right sideline for a 48-yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds left. The blown pass coverage had Saban fuming on the sideline over another mistake in a day full of them for the Tide.

“They never gave up and we never put them away, and we had some chances,” he said.

Kentucky’s onside kick attempt went out of bounds to give Alabama the ball and the game.

The Tide’s final scoring chance came after Coffee nearly lost his second fumble inside the Kentucky 10, but the ball dribbled out of bounds after the Wildcats had a clear shot to recover and Alabama kept possession.

“We had it and then we didn’t,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. “That’s kind of the way the game went for us.”

Cornerback David Jones had the ball squirt from underneath him. “I tried to just fall on it and secure it, but it just slipped out,” he said.

‘Bama continued to dominate the series, moving to 34-2-1 overall and 20-0-1 in the state of Alabama. Kentucky was looking for its second huge upset in two seasons after beating No. 1 LSU in triple overtime last season.

Coffee had 25 carries, including a 78-yard touchdown, for the best rushing output for a ‘Bama back since Shaun Alexander gained a school-record 291 yards against LSU in 1996. Kentucky came in allowing just 73 rushing yards a game and hadn’t given up a TD on the ground.

The Tide ran for 282 yards.

“When I think about what I’ve done today, all I think about is the fumbles,” Coffee said. “The fumbles come to mind first. The fumbles affect the whole team.”

Hartline was 20-of-42 for 241 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Alabama’s Wilson was just 7-of-17 for 106 yards and was intercepted once and sacked three times.

Outgained 253-60 in the first half, the Wildcats forced two turnovers in the third quarter and made it look easy on their first scoring drive.

Hartline dumped a pass over the middle to Derrick Locke, who scampered for a 36-yard gain. Dicky Lyons Jr. took a short slant pattern 26 yards for a touchdown on the next play to make it 14-7 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

Hartline had just 66 yards passing before that drive, and Kentucky had gone three-and-out on five consecutive possessions.

Kareem Jackson then picked off Hartline’s underthrown pass after the Wildcats pushed across midfield.

The Tide had continued its string of fast starts, pushing its season first quarter advantage to 88-0 with a pair of touchdowns for the team’s only points until the final minutes.

Coffee raced 78 yards up the middle, going virtually untouched and managing to just outdistance Kentucky’s pursuing defenders. Then Hartline lost control of ball as he was cocking his arm for a throw and Rolando McClain scooped it up at Kentucky’s 4 for a touchdown, the third scored by Alabama’s defense this season.

“I think we had a legitimate shot at them, but they made those plays and we didn’t,” Brooks said.

It could have been worse but Tiffin missed a field goal, Coffee lost a fumble at Kentucky’s 6 and the Tide failed to score on two other trips across midfield in the first half.