Tide defense is ready Texas offensive line has tough challenge

Tide defense is ready Texas offensive line has tough challenge

January 4th, 2010 by The Decatur Daily in Sports - College

By Michael Casagrande, sports@timesfreepress.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., -- Rolando McClain's answer didn't require hearing the full question.

Nope, those nine sacks yielded to Nebraska in the Big 10 Championship Game didn't influence his impression of the Texas offensive line. In what quickly became the issue of the day when players and coaches met with reporters, McClain was not taking the bait or any opportunity to knock the front line of the Texas defense.

"That was that game," he said cutting off the question. "We've watched film and they have a very good offense. (Quarterback) Colt McCoy wouldn't have the passing yards he has. Somebody has to block for him for him to throw the ball, so they have a very good offensive line. You can't take that away from them."

Give the advantage to whomever, but the matchup of Alabama's defensive front with Texas' offensive counterparts will go a long way towards determining a winner Thursday evening in the Rose Bowl.

Facing an Alabama defense that ranks second nationally against the run and a respectable 32nd in quarterback sacks, the Texas line will need considerable improvement over the Dec. 5 debacle that almost cost the Longhorns their spot in the BCS National Championship. Allowing that kind of sack total was especially high in the 13-12 win, but the line was hardly impenetrable before then.

Now ranked 82nd in sacks given up, Texas was 53rd heading into the Nebraska game that saw Husker defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh solidify a Heisman run with 4 -- sacks.

The month-plus between conference and national championship games obviously gives both sides excess preparation time. For the Texas line, that first meant getting back to the fundamentals and some degree of poking fun at what happened against Nebraska.

"I don't know how funny they are," offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski said straight faced while reporters chuckled.

Having such an aggressive Alabama defense that likes to disguise blitzing packages only heightens the difficulty in the preparation.

Sometimes, Ulatoski said, little can be done.

"When they bring more than you can block, there are hot routes," he said.

Besides the sack allowance, the Longhorn line took extra heat from a complete lack of a running game in their conference title game. Sacks accounted for 52 negative yards, but running backs and quarterback Colt McCoy only came up with 79 positive yards.

Again, that feeds into a strength of Alabama's.

Opponents average just 77.9 yards on the ground to put the Tide second in the national rankings, trailing just Texas who held the other side to 62.2 yards a game in the pass-happy Big 12 conference.

Coming off the SEC Championship Game where Alabama kept the often-running Tim Tebow in the pocket, Tide defenders are confident it can do the same with McCoy who's piled up rushing yards as a scrambler. He ran for 175 yards a week before the Big 12 game at Texas A&M, which would be a complete disaster, Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody.

Even seemingly minimal gains stir the 354-pounder's anger.

"They can get three or four yards (on one play), and we'll be like that's too many," Cody said. "We just play with a mentality that we'll be stubborn."

Texas's primary running threat, running back Tre' Newton isn't worried about his line regrouping to stop Cody and company.

The running back who played alongside Tide quarterback Greg McElroy at Southlake Carroll High School in suburban Dallas never doubts the five big guys up front.

"I trust my guys," said a reassuring Newton who has 513 rushing yards to lead Texas in his 102 attempts.