TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jalen Hurts went to his star receiver after a first half of misfires and missed opportunities with a simple message: Let’s settle down.
It worked wonders.
Hurts threw two third-quarter touchdown passes to Ridley, and Ronnie Harrison scored on a 55-yard fumble return, in No. 1 Alabama’s 34-6 victory over Kentucky on Saturday night.
The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) overcame a week full of potential distractions and a slow start to run away from the Wildcats (2-3, 1-2).
“He actually came to me and said we need to calm down,” Ridley said. “He’s one of those guys. I think he’s like the Jameis Winston guy. Just like he’s very cool when something’s going wrong, he’s like, ‘Calm down, calm down and let’s just keep going.’ And I answered him, ‘You’re right, let’s play.'”
The Hurt and Ridley Show took over the second half, hooking up on scoring passes of 10 and 19 yards and plenty in between. Hurts passed for 262 yards, including 173 in the third quarter.
Ridley gained 174 yards on 11 catches, both career-highs.
Freshman tailback Joshua Jacobs rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in his first start with Kentucky native Damien Harris playing a limited role after spraining his right ankle last week against Kent State.
The performance came two days after star linebacker Tim Williams’ arrest on a misdemeanor charge of carrying a pistol without a permit. Williams was suspended for the first half and still had three tackles for loss and a sack.
Backup quarterback Blake Barnett left the team and withdrew from school this week, too.
None of that mattered much in the final three quarters, though Kentucky did hold a 3-0 lead for half the first quarter.
“Challenged them a little bit at halftime,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I didn’t think we sort of imposed our will in the first half how we could have or should have or wanted to, however you want to say it.”
Kentucky couldn’t overcome two first-half fumbles, the first coming in Tide territory.
“We had a chance to do some things and go up by at least six and we gave up the turnover there early,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “That we can’t do.”
Hurts couldn’t produce any big plays in the passing game until the opening drive of the third quarter. He rolled toward the right sideline and found Ridley wide open for a 46-yard gain. Two plays later, he did the same thing and again Ridley was open — this time in the end zone.
Kentucky: The Wildcats scored first but couldn’t get anything going offensively, getting outgained 488-161. Stanley “Boom” Williams came in averaging 116 yards a game and finished with 22 yards on nine carries.
Alabama: The defense sparked the Tide when Hurts and the passing game weren’t clicking. Alabama had four sacks. Harris logged only two carries and big-play receiver ArDarius Stewart sat out the second straight game with a knee injury.
NON-OFFENSIVE TDS: Rashaan Evans stripped the ball from quarterback Stephen Johnson and Harrison scooped it up and sprinted to the end zone in the second quarter. Alabama leads the nation with five defensive touchdowns and seven non-offensive TDs.
JOHNSON’S NIGHT: Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson was 13 of 22 for 89 yards, lost two fumbles and was sacked four times. Saban said Alabama noticed “he was a little loose with the ball.”
“I was just trying to make something happen and I didn’t hold the ball like I should,” Johnson said.
Alabama could lose some ground at the No. 1 spot with No. 5 Clemson and No. 3 Louisville clashing in a much more meaningful game.
Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt in a matchup of SEC East teams in need of a win.
Alabama visits No. 20 Arkansas to begin a three-week stretch against ranked teams.
AP’s college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org