Oct. 22, 2009
BY BETH RUCKER
Tennessee is starting at a disadvantage against top-ranked Alabama before the first snap on Saturday.
The Volunteers have a weight problem.
The Crimson Tide's three defensive linemen weigh a combined 100 pounds more than the Volunteers' interior offensive linemen. That's not good for a Tennessee team that often relies on its run game.
"That is something that we've got to figure out a way to move the ball in there. We're giving up a lot of weight and size in there," Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said.
The mismatch in Saturday's game begins at the center, where two Codys will battle for control. The Vols' 6-foot-1, 260-pound senior center, Cody Sullins, will be tasked with moving 6-foot-5, 350-pound Tide senior noseguard Terrence Cody.
Cody's unyielding presence has earned him the nickname "Mount Cody." The size difference isn't lost on Sullins, a former walk-on who has worked his way into a scholarship and starting role.
"Who wouldn't see it?" Sullins said. "Look at him."
Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) averages 183.7 yards rushing per game, and Hardesty ranks among the SEC's top tailbacks.
At first glance, the task of keeping that run game alive seems impossible. Alabama (7-0, 4-0) has the most stifling defense in the country, limiting opponents to 226.6 yards per game.
That's largely in part to the Crimson Tide's ability to stop the run. Opposing teams are averaging only 63.3 yards on the ground against Alabama.
"Honestly, I'm looking forward to it. It's a great challenge, and I like challenges," Sullins said. "He's really big and really talented, and he's a great competitor. I'm just going to have to work my tail off this week preparing for him and bring my best to the game on Saturday."
Vols defensive end Chris Walker, who's spent plenty of time across from Sullins and the rest of the offensive linemen in practice, says there's still a way to get some ground against a bigger opponent.
"Our coaches always say the low man wins. Cody (Sullins) just comes off low anyway cause he's already short to the ground," Walker said. "I think it's gonna be a positive for him and he's a really strong guy that plays with really good technique. I think that helps him out a lot."
Other players said it would come down to playing their assignment perfectly and a little extra scheming by Kiffin.
Sullins might get some extra help from left guard. His twin brother, Cory Sullins, has lined up there for much of the season, but senior Vladimir Richard expects to be ready to play after several weeks of recovering from injuries to his knee and Achilles tendon.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Richard adds an extra 30 pounds to the Vols' offensive line. He has faced Alabama's daunting defensive line, though Cody missed last year's Tennessee game because of a knee ligament sprain.
"They can take on one-on-one blocks and just try to bull right through you or what not," Richard said. "That's good on their behalf, but from our standpoint we're just going to go out there and play Tennessee football and execute and move the ball and get out with a win."