LEXINGTON, Ky. -- An upset bug swept through the landscape of college football on Saturday, toppling contenders like so many dominos. Seeing an already bedridden Georgia team lose at home to Missouri came as little surprise, but Mark Richt's Bulldogs weren't the only ones left reeling by the end of the night. Title hopefuls Stanford, Oklahoma and Michigan fell. All three teams lost away from the comforts of home. All three lost inexplicably to unranked opponents.
The biggest Goliath of them all, the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, swayed like a dizzy heavyweight on the road in Lexington early in the game. Coach Nick Saban threw his hands up in disgust as he watched his offense cough up the ball, fumbling twice against the unranked Kentucky Wildcats. A scoreless first quarter left the door open for an upset. The most dangerous thing in the game -- belief -- started swirling through the bleachers in Commonwealth Stadium.
But the feeling proved fleeting. There would be no Bluegrass Miracle for the home team. The landscape of college football, at least at the top of the mountain, would remain intact for another week. Alabama regained its footing after a brief intermission, riding a season-high 223 yards of offense in the second quarter to beat Kentucky 48-7.
By the fourth quarter, it was all smiles on the visitors' sideline as the second- and third-teamers played out the final minutes of the game. Kevin Norwood, who caught a spectacular touchdown pass, threw a wad of paper at safety Vinnie Sunseri, who found him and delivered a spine-cracking bear hug in celebration. After a so-so start, Alabama won going away. A UA staffer repeated to no one in particular, "Boring is good, boring is good."
"We just kind of do things the Bama way, man," Saban said after the game. "That's what we're trying to get our guys to do: play physical, play with effort, play with more toughness, compete well in the game for 60 minutes and improve and dominate the competition. And I think we did that."
AJ McCarron, Alabama's veteran starting quarterback, set a career mark with 359 yards passing. T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, who each fumbled during a rocky first quarter, ended up rushing for a combined 228 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line, which struggled to open holes in the defense early, found its rhythm quickly thereafter, helping the Tide manage 6.8 yards per carry.
Alabama's defense, meanwhile, was stifling. Kentucky, which lost its starting quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, early to an ankle injury, never got going. The Wildcats mustered just 170 total yards of offense to Alabama's 668. UK's lone touchdown came in the second half when backup cornerback John Fulton collided with Jarrick Williams, sending both to the ground while Javess Blue caught the ball and ran freely into the end zone.
Saban couldn't have liked what he saw from that play, but it proved to be merely an outlier during the full course of the game. Alabama, rather than fall victim to the upset bug, took care of business on the road against a team it was supposed to beat.
In fact, it's been a familiar routine. There hasn't been a game in which Alabama was perfect this season, but the outcome has always been on the money.
"I feel like we've done that all year," McCarron said of his team's ability to maintain poise despite a so-so start. "We got in the hole against Texas A&M and had some trouble against Virginia Tech. But this team does a really good job of bouncing back."
Said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops: "They're a good team, and they do that to a lot of people. I've seen them do it to top-10 teams before."
Saban, for his part, saw improvement. As giants around the game fell left and right this weekend, his team not only won on the road, it improved on its already impressive BCS credentials.
"I think we're a better team now than we were," Saban said. "I think we're making improvement, but I still think there are things we need to continue to work on so we get better each week."