- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

This weekend’s marquee showdown between No. 8 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia represents the SEC’s ultimate clash in contrasts.

The game-breakers belong to the Bulldogs (4-0), who boast the league’s premier pack of offensive playmakers. The line belongs to Alabama (4-0), a squad that counters with perhaps the nation’s premier pair of big uglies.

There’s little question that Georgia is the sexier of the two traditional powers set to square off Saturday night in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs entered the season as the top-ranked team in college football thanks to a combination of offensive balance and talent guaranteed to give SEC defensive coordinators insomnia.

A consensus among NFL scouts has Georgia junior Matthew Stafford standing alone among the college game’s current crop of pure pocket passers. Stafford is still developing chemistry with several new targets this season, but he has looked sharper in each successive start, passing for 919 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions thus far.

Georgia’s receiving corps, which was depleted by the departure of starters Sean Bailey and Mikey Henderson, is no longer a question mark thanks to the emergence of freshman sensation A.J. Green. Blossoming opposite superb possession man Mohamed Massaquoi, Green (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) already has become Stafford’s favorite target, catching 16 balls for 300 yards and two scores in his first four college games.

Offensive balance comes courtesy of redshirt sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno, the most electric player to don the red and black since Herschel Walker (1980-82). Moreno is averaging 6.6 yards a carry and 113.8 yards a game as one of the season’s early Heisman Trophy favorites.

But the Saban has a pair of game-changers of his own in left tackle Andre Smith and nose tackle Terrence Cody.

A 6-5, 340-pound bulldozer and Outland Trophy candidate, Smith anchors a veteran offensive line that has led the way for a rushing offense that ranks 14th in the nation (236.8 yards).

“This will be a great challenge for us,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The teams we’ve played, quite frankly, weren’t trying to line up and run it down your throat. That’s what Alabama does. They’ve got great backs and a very physical offensive line, and we know they are going to line up and try to pound the rock between the tackles at us. That’s what they do as well as anyone in the country.”

The Crimson Tide also stop the run as well as any team in the country, surrendering just 55 yards a game on the ground (eighth nationally) thanks in large part to Cody. A junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the 6-5 Cody arrived in Tuscaloosa weighing nearly 400 pounds. He has since slimmed down to 375.

But what makes Cody a terror is his freakish athleticism and strength. Cody can palm a dinner plate in his massive hands. He can execute a 360 dunk on the basketball court. He has never maxed out on the squat machine (stopping at 800 pounds) because they don’t make an apparatus capable of handling his potential maximum lift.

“There are some guys like him that you see in the NFL - Keith Traylor and [6-5, 375] Ted Washington come to mind,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Terrence is one of those types of guys.”

Cody’s statistics are deceptive (12 tackles, three tackles for loss). He was so unblockable in the season-opener against Clemson that the Tigers completely abandoned the run; the ACC’s best backfield tandem (James Davis and C.J. Spiller) stood idly by as Alabama held the Tigers to zero net rushing yards in a 34-10 victory.

In last week’s 49-14 destruction of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Cody was equally impressive against the Razorbacks’ Jonathan Luigs. The returning Rimington Award winner needed help all night against Cody, and Arkansas became Alabama’s fourth victim this season to finish with fewer than 100 rushing yards.

Georgia’s primary weakness is a thin and inexperienced offensive line. Opposite Cody, the Bulldogs will start true freshman Ben Jones (6-3, 304) at center.

“That is absolutely a major concern because Cody is two handfuls,” Richt said. “But that’s what this game is all about. We’ll find out a lot about both teams on Saturday night.”

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