TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The nation's top-ranked college football team didn't quite look like itself at first after an extended period away from the field of competition. In the end, it scarcely made a difference on the scoreboard.
Alabama senior DeVonta Smith had 144 receiving yards on nine catches, two of them touchdowns as he set a Southeastern Conference career record in that category, and he helped the No. 1 Crimson Tide to a 63-3 victory over short-handed Kentucky on Saturday.
"I think we played better and better and better as the game went on," coach Nick Saban said.
And the score got bigger and bigger and bigger.
Mac Jones passed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and Najee Harris ran for a pair of scores for the Tide (7-0 SEC), with both players churning out those performances in less than three quarters. A slow start turned into a breezy return from a three-week layoff after LSU was forced to call off last week's scheduled game because of COVID-19 troubles.
The outmanned Wildcats (3-5) were missing a number of key players because of injuries or coronavirus protocol. They were competitive early on the stat sheet, but it didn't hold up particularly long on the scoreboard after they gave up three touchdowns in the second quarter.
"I know you're going to look at the score and say, 'Man, there's not a lot of good things.' But there was," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "Early in the game, I thought our guys were playing extremely hard, extremely physical."
Smith broke Amari Cooper's SEC and Alabama record with his 32nd career touchdown catch, a 10-yarder from Jones in the second quarter. He added an 18-yarder from freshman backup Bryce Young.
"It's certainly a blessing to have my name with all the greats that came to the SEC and this school," Smith said.
Saban matched former Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier for second on the SEC's career regular-season wins list with his 206th. Alabama legend Bear Bryant tops the list with 292.
Jones completed 16 of 24 passes but also was intercepted at the goal line in a rare mistake. Harris had a career-long 42-yard touchdown run and gained 83 yards on 13 carries.
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson passed for just 120 yards and was benched after throwing an interception that Jordan Battle returned 45 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Backup quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen couldn't get anything going, either. The Wildcats gained 121 yards in the first quarter and 60 the rest of the way.
Kentucky played without leading rusher Chris Rodriguez, offensive guard Luke Fortner, tight ends Brenden Bates and Justin Riggs, and linebackers Jamin Davis and D'Eryk Jackson. The school didn't disclose reasons for each player's absence.
Despite missing all those players, the Wildcats kept it close for a while. They controlled the ball much of the first half but settled for three field-goal tries and converted only one, with a miss and a bad snap, and couldn't muster much offense after that.
"This is not acceptable for us," Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal said. "We know that as players, as a whole football team, as a whole organization. As leaders, we are going to put it on the young guys, so the young guys know that this isn't acceptable, this is not who we are, this won't happen again."
Alabama has outscored Mississippi State and Kentucky by a combined 104-3 in its past two games. The Tide didn't have anything close to a flawless first half on either side of the ball against the Wildcats, but they still took a 28-3 lead into the locker room after having the ball for just 9:20.
"The last time I checked, you get nothing for time of possession," said Saban, whose team hosts Auburn in the Iron Bowl next Saturday.
Young and freshman tailback Jase McClellan were among the Alabama backups who received significant playing time. McClellan ran for 99 yards and a late touchdown, moving up the depth chart after Trey Sanders was injured in a car accident.
"It's just good to see the young guys get in there and get a feeling for how it's going to be," Smith said. "You never know when they're going to be needed."