NEWPORT BEACH _ Even though he only has 25 tackles this season and no sacks, University of Alabama senior nose tackle Terrence Cody has been drawing a lot of attention during the days leading up to Thursday's BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.
Then again, he is 6-foot-5, 354 pounds.
"Obviously he's a really big guy," said Texas center Chris Hall, who stands at 6-2, 295. "He's going to be super-strong, and he's All-American. He is what he is. Coach Parcells says, 'You are what your record says you are,' and when you look at Terrence Cody, all you can say is that he's going to be a great player."
Despite the lack of numbers the All-American was a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards, which all went to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who had four of Nebraska's nine sacks in the Big 12 Championship.
Consequently, the obviously concern for Texas is that it must avoid anything similar against Alabama's defensive line to have a shot to win.
"He just does a great job of demanding a double team, and that gives Cory (Reamer) and I an opportunity to run around and make plays," junior linebacker Rolando McClain said. "He's done a great job up to this point in the season and we're going to need him to do it one more game."
Although Alabama got a glimpse of what life is like without Cody last year when he missed two games with a sprained knee, with him the Tide still managed to keep nine of 12 opponents from rushing for 100 yards. This season has followed suit with Alabama second nationally in rushing defense (77.92 yards per game).
"When you've got a guy like him up front, it changes everything for everybody, for the opponents, you've got to go to different things, and for us, it makes it a little bit easier for us," senior cornerback Javier Arenas said. "You know, just him being there week in and week out, you kind of get used to it and you kind of get used to everybody else adjusting instead of trying to run up the middle and shove it down your throat. So it's good to have him up there. I don't know what it would be like without him, honestly."
"It would be a lot less where we are in rushing defense, I can guarantee you that, because when he's not in there, it makes a big difference," defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "When you watch teams and you talk to other coaches after you play them, you talk to other SEC teams, they just can't get movement. Running game is about movement. If you can move people, you create space and there is no space created when Cody is in there, and that's what he does best for us."
The trickle-down matchup advantages are seen at other spots, like less man-to-man coverage. Of course, numerous teams have tried a variety of things to loosen up the middle, but no opponent has had a 100-yard rusher against Alabama since BenJarvus Green-Ellis of Ole Miss in 2007.
"If you take (Rolando's) tackles and add them with mine, that's pretty much what my statistics would be," Cody said about playing in a different scheme. "I know I don't make a lot of tackles and all that stuff, which I'm not selfish. I mean, I know I'm giving other players opportunities to make plays and that's pretty much what our defense is based on for the front."
Stopping the screen
Although Arenas said last week that Texas doesn't throw an inordinate amount of screen passes, the Longhorns have been extremely successful executing bubble screens.
"The screen, it really starts honestly with the defensive line covering down because if the defensive line doesn't cover down, it doesn't give the linebackers and defensive backs time to react and see where the ball is, come to try to make a play on it," senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington said. "Also, I mean, you also don't want the screen to take the aggressiveness out of your rush because they do a lot of things like play passes or stuff that it looks like it's a screen or it looks like it's a run, and that gets the defensive line sitting on their heels or not rushing and being aggressive. We need to make sure that we don't do that. We need to stay aggressive and just react to what we see."
The key matchup that many people will be watching is Arenas on All-American wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the slot.
"He's taken it to another level this year," Smart said about Arenas. "He's more of a leader. He goes out to practice and every day he competes like it's his last day. You think back to the game that he ended up not being able to play, I think it was South Carolina, he's in practice and he tries to run over D.J. Fluker in practice, who is the largest human being on our team. Javier thinks he's bigger than he is, which makes him the greatest player that he can be.
"I can't say enough about him."
Although Alabama's defense returned eight starters, it still had to overcome losing sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower to a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas.
"I think that created a lot more pressure on Rolando," Smart said. "We had to pull Rolando aside at times, his frustration builds. It's like having your twin brother there and now he's not there. It was probably the biggest challenge that nobody realized. It's kind of over now, but that one hurt because Dont'a created something for us that we really don't have, he was a natural pass-rusher, a game-changer, and it hurt him and it hurt Ro."
Hightower, sophomore running back Jeramie Griffin and redshirt freshman defensive end Damion Square all made the trip with the team and have been going through light drills while wearing black jerseys (no contact).
The team worked out again in pads at it makeshift home here, Orange County College and the grass field across the street. Among the reasons why Alabama has made this its headquarters were an additional turf field if the weather turns bad (it won't, but there are no indoor facilities available in the area), the location is pretty well isolated about an hour south of Los Angeles and players can use the weight room before and after practice.
Senior cornerback Marquis Johnson (thumb) continued to work with a cast on his left hand/wrist. Junior tailback Terry Grant, who has been limited by an abdominal strain, was spotted after practice wearing a black jersey signaling no contact.
"We have had two good days of practice," Saban said. "Yesterday was more of just getting acclimated and a transition time but I thought the players responded to it really well and had a really good spirit at practice today.
"Obviously we have had some things to clean up the last couple days in full pads but tomorrow we will go in shells and continue the same kind of work. The Rose Bowl people have been fantastic to us and the hospitality here has been great. The players got a chance to go to Disneyland last night which was a good experience for them."
Alabama participated in its final announced non-football event here, dinner at Lawry's restaurant Sunday evening. The Beef Bowl is a double-sized cut with the rib bone, traditionally served to players participating in the Rose Bowl. Texas has its Lawry's event Monday night.
Saban likes that the team has been practicing in weather warmer than what the game conditions are expected to be after the team worked out in chilly conditions in Tuscaloosa. No one has had any problems with the warmer temps.
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis on coaching Colt McCoy in his final game: "It'll be different, there's no question. It'll be different. He's been a special player. He came in at about 175 pounds in one of our first meetings, he said, 'I want to be the best you've ever coached,' and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, right. I've got Pee-wee Herman here.' But he has been such a dedicated player."
Alabama's special-teams players will go from practicing off a horrible surface, a beat-up field adjacent to where the rest of the team is working out, to one of the best fields in college football. "I spoke with Kai Forbath, the UCLA kicker, and he told me it will probably be the best field that I will ever play on," senior kicker Leigh Tiffin said. "I am not really worried about the surface and the weather so far doesn't seem like it will be a problem either. I think we will have a great environment to play in."
Texas senior tackle Adam Ulatoski (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) said people can stop trying to compare Alabama's defensive line to Nebraska, which helped the Cornhuskers make nine sacks in the Big 12 Championship: "Nebraska kind of read, their defensive line, they read and kind of made plays on their own. The Alabama line really takes up blocks and frees up space for the linebackers to go make plays, and they have great linebackers back there with Rolando and all that stuff. There's a great defense."
Redshirt freshman guard Barrett Jones on an Alabama running back winning the Heisman Trophy his first season as a starter: "We take a lot of pride in the Heisman Trophy. It wasn't really our goal for this year, our goal is to win a national championship but at the same time we know we have a great player in Mark (Ingram) and we want to do everything we can to allow him to win as many awards as he can. We think it's a great honor they saw fit to give it to him. He makes us look good. We open a tiny hole and the next thing you know is that Mark is gone."
Texas wide receiver Brandon Collins, who did not make the trip from Texas, was arrested Saturday and charged two felony counts of aggravated robbery. Texas coach Mack Brown announced Sunday that Collins has been dismissed from the team.
The anticipation for Thursday's game is beginning to build and Alabama fans are beginning to pour into the area. "I think it's starting to kick in with everybody now," Tiffin said. "We're getting close I think a lot of times with bowl games they're so far away you're not really worried about it. But yeah, I think it's starting to hit everyone."