The Saturday before Thanksgiving typically has been a time in which Alabama's football team has feasted on a Southern Conference opponent.
There have been three matchups between the Crimson Tide and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga since 2009, as well as three against Western Carolina and one apiece versus The Citadel and Mercer. These have served as tuneups before the annual Iron Bowl showdown, but this year's Saturday before Thanksgiving for Alabama contains Kentucky inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Which is the Crimson Tide's seventh game of this Southeastern Conference season that can get rearranged at any minute.
"If we were in a normal season, this would be the 11th week," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday afternoon on a Zoom call. "We've practiced just about as much as if we were in the 11th game of the season, and I think we've physically been able to take care of our players. Psychologically is the real challenge for them to be able to stay focused on the things they need to do to continue to improve to play at a high level, especially since we're basically just halfway through the season."
Alabama has handled this coronavirus-altered autumn better than any team within the SEC, having won all six of its games by at least 15 points and by keeping its COVID cases at a low level. Saban did not offer specific numbers Monday but said, "We're fully prepared to be able to play the game. We certainly have enough players who are healthy and able to do that."
The Crimson Tide have not taken the field since thrashing Mississippi State on Halloween, receiving their lone open date on Nov. 7 and having last Saturday's trip to LSU postponed.
"Everyone's mental clock from the past couple of years here is different from where we would be at this time of the season," senior tight end Miller Forristall said. "We had an elongated and weird camp, and it was obviously a weird summer. I think it's just one of those things you have to adjust to. This year is unlike any we've had and unlike any the coaches have had, and it's a matter of who can adapt to it the best."
Said sophomore defensive lineman DJ Dale: "It does feel kind of weird. Mentally, it does feel like week 11, but Coach Saban has been doing a good job of reassuring us about this season and controlling what we can control."
Alabama is 37-2-1 all-time against Kentucky and has never lost to the Wildcats in Tuscaloosa. The most recent encounter took place in 2016, with the Crimson Tide rolling 34-6 inside Bryant-Denny.
This season's Wildcats are 3-4 and coming off a 38-35 escape of visiting Vanderbilt.
"You've got to focus on what's in front of you," Saban said. "Right now, we're supposed to play Kentucky, and that's what we're focused on and getting ready to prepare for. If that changes, we've got to be ready to adjust. We don't control that and we can't control that."
Next week's game against visiting Auburn was picked up Monday by CBS and will have a 3:30 Eastern kickoff.
One year later
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Tua Tagovailoa's dislocated hip at Mississippi State that served as the last college game for the Crimson Tide record-setting quarterback. Tagovailoa was the fifth overall selection in the 2020 NFL draft, going to Miami, and he has guided the Dolphins to three wins in his first three starts.
"I actually got to watch him play yesterday for the first time, and I thought he played very, very well," Saban said. "I was very proud of him. He made some really good throws and led the team to victory. He answered the bell when they needed him to in the fourth quarter."
Open date success
Forristall used the open date earlier this month to get engaged to former Alabama soccer player Abby Lutzenkirchen.
"We had our bye week, and I got to go home and propose," Forristall said. "It was a good win on the bye weekend."
Lutzenkirchen is the younger sister of the late Philip Lutzenkirchen, who was the tight end on Auburn's 2010 national championship team.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.