The lone game Andre Smith missed in his three-year career at Alabama came Sept. 6 against Tulane. He was out with a sprained knee he suffered in the season-opener against Clemson. With the Outland Trophy winner sidelined, Alabama managed just 172 total yards, 99 of which came on the ground.
With Smith out again after reportedly improperly speaking with an agent, Alabama will have its hands full in the trenches.
Left guard Mike Johnson will slide over to tackle, while David Ross will fill in at left guard.
Losing Smith for the game drops Alabama’s average offensive line weight to 299.6 pounds from roughly 308. Utah, however, averages just over 258 pounds on its defensive line, a somewhat skinny number.
It seems to be shaping up as a classic matchup between power and speed. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has said it’s no secret he will be loading the box with eight or nine guys at a time to slow the Alabama run. Because of the size difference, Utah’s defensive front will have to bank on quickness and giving Alabama a lot of different defensive looks.
Alabama knows the box will be loaded and congested running lanes will be the norm Friday night. But, they’ll run it anyway. When the box is loaded, that leaves one-on-one coverage for the wide receivers. Julio Jones is Alabama’s go-to guy, and he’ll be covered by one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Sean Smith, who matches up well with Jones’ size.
But, in my opinion, Alabama’s run game will be OK. Sure, losing Smith is monumental, but tight end Travis McCall acts as just another offensive lineman. He prides himself more on blocking than catching passes, as seen by only seven grabs for 52 yards this season. McCall could be a key factor in Alabama’s run game, lining up alongside Johnson on the left side of the line and containing All-Mountain West defensive end Paul Kruger, who has 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this season.
Also, late this season, Crimson Tide running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram had success running to the right side of the line behind guard Marlon Davis and tackle Drew Davis. Coffee had exceptional touchdown runs against Auburn and Florida that veered to the right side. Ingram is more of the power runner, so if the Tide’s size prevails over the Utes’ speed, he could be the guy pounding between the tackles in the red zone.
I see the Sugar Bowl shaping up to go in favor of the Crimson Tide. I don’t see Alabama completely dominating in the trenches or running all over Utah, but I do think key conversions on third down will keep the Utes’ offense off the field. If the running game is stuffed on occasion, look for Jones and tight end Nick Walker to have more than a few receptions from quarterback John Parker Wilson.
Ultimately, I look for Coffee to knife his way through the Utah defense for a few big runs, setting up Ingram to cap them off with a couple of short-yardage rushing touchdowns .
The Tide rolls, 31-17.