LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Alabama running back Trent Richardson took the handoff in his own end zone and instantly found himself surrounded by guys wearing Kentucky blue.
On the Crimson Tide sideline, one thought kept running through Mark Ingram's head: Uh-oh.
"I thought it was a safety, personally," Ingram said.
It wasn't. Barely. Officials ruled Richardson managed to get the nose of the ball out of the end zone.
The six inches turned out to be all the room the Crimson Tide needed.
Alabama used the reprieve to start a lengthy touchdown drive, sparking a 5-minute deluge that helped the third-ranked Crimson Tide bury the Wildcats 38-20 on Saturday.
Ingram ran for a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns and Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) matched No. 1 Florida's pummeling of the Wildcats (2-2, 0-2) a week ago, albeit in slightly different fashion.
The Gators overwhelmed Kentucky with a 31-point first-quarter outburst. The Crimson Tide took longer to get going, but looked just as dominant over the final 35 minutes to make a believer out of Kentucky coach Rich Brooks.
"We just played the top two defenses in the country," Brooks said. "Alabama's defense is just as good as Florida's. They're a great football team. I expect to see them in the SEC championship game."
Kentucky did its best to hang tough early. The Wildcats trailed only 7-6 and had Alabama backed up at its own 3 midway through the second quarter.
Richardson was drilled by Kentucky's Micah Johnson on first down, and for a second it appeared he didn't get out of the end zone. A safety would have put the Crimson Tide behind for the first time all season.
Richardson did just enough to avoid a major mistake, and Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy made sure the second chance didn't go to waste. He methodically led Alabama down the field, eventually hitting Colin Peek for a 3-yard score to put Alabama up 14-6 with 40 seconds left in the half.
"I think that was the turning point in the game," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "[It] gave Greg some confidence and he threw the ball effectively on that drive and that's what we needed to do the whole game."
The fun was just starting for the Crimson Tide.
Kentucky tried to answer right back and quarterback Mike Hartline dumped the ball off to Derrick Locke. The ball was jarred loose and popped right up into the arms of Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who raced 45 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-6 at the half. The fumble ruined an otherwise solid day for Locke, who finished with 138 yards of total offense.
Yet the deficit forced the Wildcats to abandon the running game, and Hartline struggled against the nation's second-ranked defense. He threw an interception on the second play of the third quarter, and Rolando McClain returned it to the Kentucky 38. The Crimson Tide needed just two plays to score, as Ingram ran 32 yards up the middle to make it 28-6.
Alabama picked Hartline off again four plays later, leading to a field goal to push the lead to 31-6 and assure the Crimson Tide of its 35th win in 38 meetings with the Wildcats.
"That little chunk killed us," said Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb. "It was the little things."
Still, it wasn't quite as easy as it looked.
Kentucky managed to move the ball effectively and controlled the game at times. The Wildcats had 301 yards of total offense -- the most the Crimson Tide has given up all season -- and could've made things interesting if not for the mistakes.
"The formula was there to beat the No. 3 team in the nation," Brooks said.
Things got a little edgy late. The Crimson Tide was trying to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter with an 18-point lead when Kentucky started to call timeouts.
Alabama responded by running a fake field goal with 3 minutes left. The Crimson Tide converted when punter/holder P.J. Fitzgerald ran for a first down. McElroy ended the drive by throwing to the end zone on fourth down; the ball fell incomplete, but the message was delivered.
McElroy completed 15 of 26 passes for 148 yards, most of them throws underneath against a Kentucky defense determined not to get beat deep.
"I thought Greg did a good job managing the game; he got us in the right play," Saban said. "We had balance out there but this was by far the most physical, toughest game we have had to this point."
The road only gets tougher from here. Alabama plays at No. 21 Mississippi next week.
"We'll take the win [but] we're not really satisfied with it," McClain said. "We knew we could have played a lot better. We just played a real good team. They gave us their best punch. We took it and we countered it."
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