For the first time in three years, Alabama will line up without big No. 71 anchoring the left side of the offensive line. Coach Nick Saban suspended Andre Smith earlier this week for what appears to be improper conduct and communication with a pro football sports agent.
Smith, this year's Outland Trophy recipient, is projected as a top 5 draft pick, but has not officially declared his entry into the draft as of yet.
As Antonio Langham can attest from a similar 1993 debacle involving an agent, NCAA guidelines strictly prohibit contact with agents while a player is still active on the collegiate level.
Now, resounding from Tuscaloosa, to Las Vegas, back down to New Orleans, is the question, "How will this affect the outcome of the 2009 Sugarbowl?"
Here are the facts.
Andre Smith missed one game this year, due to injury, against the Green Wave of Tulane. Without Smith punishing the defensive right side, the Crimson Tide gained only 172 yards on offense.
In the game prior, against Clemson, the Crimson Tide posted a powerful 419 yards. Upon the return of Smith against Western Kentucky, the Crimson tide posted 281 yards that game.
It's obvious: Andre Smith is an impact player.
Paul Kruger, the 258lb defensive end scheduled to square up against Smith, was chomping at the bit and hoping for a war with the offensive phenom. Kruger had hoped a stellar performance against the Outland Trophy winner would boost his stock value in the upcoming draft. If Kruger publicly displayed zero concern for his match-up with Smith, it can only be assumed that he will show little respect for second on the depth chart.
Utah finished the 2009 regular season ranking 14th in rushing defense, allowing less than 105 yards per game this season. The Crimson Tide finished the regular season with the 23rd ranked offense, boasting 196.4 yards per game… and with Andre Smith.
As the tale of the tape reads now, the game just got more interesting.
To add more kerosene to the dramatic fire, we need only to examine Utah's standard defensive plan of attack. Utah brings an 8 man front, with Kruger on one book end, and they cripple their opponent's offense by collapsing the pocket or smothering the run.
Kruger alone is responsible for 15.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and 7.5 sacks on the year. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and agility.
Before we get too much on the Utah bandwagon, this Alabama team is pretty darn good too, right?
Damn right. Mark Ingram and Glen Coffee punished the best SEC linebackers and defensive backs on a weekly basis this year. As one of the strongest and most fit players on the team, Glen Coffee punishes all those who try to step up to gain their glory.
The same can be said about true freshman Mark Ingram. Ingram is a powerful and explosive back that can get an extra yard when need be. He and Coffee provided spectators with dazzling performances of explosiveness throughout the regular season, and into the SEC Championship Game against Florida. Florida, by the way, will be playing for the BCS National Championship.
You won't have a slouch straining to get off the bench to replace Smith, either. Likely, Mike Johnson will step in and David Ross will move to left guard. Mike Johnson stands in at 6'6" and weighs in at 300lbs.
Another scenario may include John Michael Boswell stepping in to face Kruger. Boswell is a mere one inch shorter than Mike Johnson, and weighs two pounds more. Both have the physical advantage over Kruger, as they've seen bigger, faster, and tougher competitors in SEC play.
As a counter-balance to the run, Alabama possesses the threat of the play action pass, which offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has simplified to the point of perfection for quarterback John Parker Wilson this year.
With wide receivers that include SEC Freshman of the Year, Julio Jones, and speed demon Marquis Maze, the Utah secondary will have their hands full.
Not to mention, tight end Nick Walker is a proven 'go-to' resource when deep routes aren't open.
John Parker Wilson, while breaking every imaginable quarterback record at Alabama, has proven that he has the clarity of vision and level head to lead this Alabama team to a 13-1 year. His focus is obvious, and his contributions can't be overlooked.
Although Andre Smith will be missed, the Crimson Tide will go on to dismantle the Utes this Friday night.
Much can be said about Smith's contribution, but he's only one man on an unbelievably driven team of champions.
Should Paul Kruger get a sack in here or there, he'll be forced to watch from the sidelines as his offense is man-handled by Alabama defensive impact players, such as Mount Cody and Rolando McClain.
With Andre Smith anchoring the left side of the offensive line, it would have been ugly for the Utah Utes. Without Smith, it still won't be pretty.