LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — After early-season talk about its dominance waning, No. 8 Alabama is back on a familiar perch in the Southeastern Conference and bound for a destination it knows well.
Credit that resurgence to a quarterback who also ignored the noise to progress.
A week after rushing for a career-best four touchdowns in a 42-28 victory over LSU, the sophomore used his arm and his feet to surpass that total and lead the Crimson Tide (9-1, 7-0 SEC, No. 8 CFP) to an eighth consecutive victory and third conference championship appearance in four seasons.
Milroe had four total touchdowns by halftime, three passing, including throws of 26 and 40 yards to Amari Niblack and Kobe Prentice. The first score came after he sat out the game's sixth snap with an injured left thigh while being tackled on a 16-yard keeper.
“I’m not satisfied with the performance,” said Milroe, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 234 yards with one interception. “I have a lot of things I have to improve.”
Milroe extended a play for his third passing score by rolling right, pointing to Roydell Williams and hitting him in stride at the 12 on the way for another 26-yard TD to make it 28-7. Williams tightroped the sideline for the final yards before crossing the goal line.
Milroe was pushed into the end zone for two 1-yard scores and spun in for another from 3 yards in the third quarter, highlights of a day in which he carried eight times for 36 yards. Jamarion Miller also ran for a 3-yard TD as Alabama beat Kentucky (6-4, 3-4) for the eighth consecutive time and won its eighth straight since losing to then-No. 11 Texas in September.
“This team has come a long way,” said coach Nick Saban, who reached his 10th SEC title game with Alabama. "A lot of guys have made significant improvement and have listened to the coaches.
“It's great we won the West and have the opportunity to play for an SEC championship. I think there were few people after the Texas game and the South Florida game. ... there were a lot of naysayers out there that didn't believe in these guys. But I always believed in this team that they would develop into something special.”
Ray Davis rushed for two short TDs and Tayvion Robinson caught a 6-yard scoring pass from Devin Leary for the Wildcats. Leary's pass followed Nasir Addison's recovery of a fumbled punt on Kentucky's sideline at the Crimson Tide 32, one of Alabama's few mistakes on an otherwise dominant day.
Milroe had the other turnover, throwing a second-quarter interception that Alabama's defense quickly offset by picking off Leary six plays later.
Neither Milroe nor Ty Simpson were sacked, the first time this season Alabama hadn't allowed one after yielding an SEC-worst 37 coming in. Milroe in particular lots of time to scan the field and find receivers, and the QBs combined to target 10 receivers on 25 passes with 16 completions.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage against a team that plays physical,” Saban added. “We wanted to make them one dimensional. We won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
Alabama's top-10 standing remains assured, and the question is whether it moves up in the playoff rankings.
Alabama: Milroe has come a long way since the Texas loss and being benched for the third game of the season, a matchup against South Florida, which the Crimson Tide struggled to win 17-3 without him. The past two weeks have shown how dangerous he is both throwing and running.
Kentucky: The Wildcats were never in it after being outgained 444-253, but they forced two takeaways and mounted two 75-yard TD drives. “We didn't get off to a very good start and we didn't get much better,” coach Mark Stoops said. Davis managed just 26 yards on 12 carries, and his second TD was set up by Ramon Jefferson's 74-yard run that put the seventh-year player over 3,000 career yards.
Alabama hosts UT-Chattanooga on Saturday.
Kentucky visits South Carolina on Saturday in its SEC finale.
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