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Previewing Kentucky’s top five impact players heading into game against Alabama

Kentucky Wildcats running back Stanley "Boom" Williams (No. 18) running the ball against South Carolina: Mark Zerof - USA TODAY Sports

All of its homecoming festivities will start on Thursday, but nothing is complete without a victory on the girdiron. After dominating Kent State 48-0, Alabama turns its attention to a Southeastern Conference match-up against Kentucky on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

A game time decision will be in order for running back Damien Harris (ankle). He chose to sign with the Crimson Tide over Kentucky in the 2015 recruiting cycle, but sustained an injury last week. Alabama will rotate Joshua Jacobs, Bo Scarbough, B.J. Emmons and Derrick Gore in the backfield, if Harris is held out.

Wide receivers ArDarius Stewart (knee) and Robert Foster both have practiced this week, however, Nick Saban still lists the duo as “questionable.” The Tide returns two important players on defense, as the suspensions for cornerback Tony Brown and defensive lineman Johnny Dwight are over. Brown was seen taking reps at Star (nickel, dime), during the second of two viewing periods with the second-team unit.

Wildcats’ head coach Mark Stoops is in his fourth season at Kentucky. He’s managed to bring a couple of top-25 recruiting classes, but has yet to see any consistency generate from it. Kentucky will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 2-2 record, including a much needed conference win over South Carolina (17-10) on last week.

Despite much of his expertise coming on defense, Stoops has witnessed this bunch surrender 35.3 points and 463 yards per game. Commonwealth Stadium (Lexington, Ky.) was the venue that saw both schools square off in 2013. Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron led the Tide to a stellar 48-7 win on the road.

Kentucky returned some headline names on both sides of the ball. Listed below are some of its impact players that look to compete and push Alabama, as it heads down the stretch of its season.

Kentucky Wildcats top five impact stars

5. Jordan Jones, Sophomore, Linebacker 

Accounting for a talent Tide backfield will not be easy, but it’s a job that Jones must perform for Kentucky.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore leads the team in tackles (43), while adding 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two pass breakups and two quarterback pressures to his stat sheet. Jones anchored a Wildcats’ front that limited South Carolina to 91 yards rushing on 35 carries last week. He posted eight tackles (team-high) and a pass breakup, while helping to generate four sacks.

4. Jeff Badet, Junior, Wide receiver 

He may not be the biggest wide receiver, however, Badet is both explosive and sure-handed.

He captains Kentucky’s group at the position, totaling eight catches for 245 yards and a touchdown. Badet (6-foot, 180 pounds) brought in two passes from Stephen Johnson for 39 yards against the Gamecocks.

To get he, Garrett Johnson and C.J. Conrad involved early would be ideal for Stoops and the Cats.

Conrad, a tight end, leads all receivers in touchdowns with three.

3. Stephen Johnson, Junior, Quarterback 

The play of both Jared Lorenzen (2000-03) and Andre Woodsen (2004-07) at quarterback were the last forms of consistency for Kentucky. Johnson has the make-up to excel, and it will start this week in a hostile environment. He put in a solid outing against South Carolina, completing 11 of 19 pass attempts for 135 yards.

Regardless of throwing an interception, Johnson kept the Wildcats in position to win a much needed contest. He’s completed 29 of 44 passes this season for 490 yards with three touchdowns to one interception.

Blocking out crowd noise and surveying each progression will be pivotal for him.

2. Denzil Ware, Sophomore, Defensive end 

Everything on defense for Kentucky starts with Ware. He aided the defensive line last week, posting five tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks. Ware was credited with a pivotal sack of Brandon McIlwain in the fourth quarter, preserving a 17-10 home victory for the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior has 17 tackles, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss this season.

Crimson Tide outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi constantly spoke about Ware to his position group in practice, getting his guys motivated to shutdown Kentucky’s offense.

1. Stanley “Boom” Williams, Junior, Running back 

He unarguably has the best nickname in college football, and is one of the toughest ball carriers that Alabama will face. Boom Williams carried Kentucky over South Carolina with 123 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (8.2 average). He’s averaging eight yards per carry and 116 yards a game, after four weeks of action.

Williams leads the team in rushing with 464 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 58 attempts. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound junior was the object of conversion for Lupoi, during Tuesday’s practice for the Tide. He kept harping on Williams’ production on the ground, demanding Alabama’s defensive front to focus on all details.

Its offense starts with Williams, but Kentucky has others in the backfield. Benjamin Snell and Jojo Kemp will share the load. Snell has five rushing scores, including one against the Gamecocks.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama MagazineYou can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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