There are a variety of reasons why it's been extraordinarily difficult running against the Alabama defense, but one of the biggest -- literally -- resides in the middle of the Tide defensive line. At 6-5 and a listed at 365 pounds (yeah right), senior defensive tackle Terrence Cody is both massive and extremely difficult to move, making his moniker of "Mt. Cody" an extremely apt description. Though he has reportedly lost some weight since last season, the man-mountain still possesses an, um, extremely girthy midsection, a midsection that makes Andre Smith look like an anorexic.
An easy and prevalent meme following the Nebraska debacle was, "If Suh did that to the Longhorns, how could they possibly hope to contain Cody?" In fact, the two defensive tackles couldn't be more opposite. Where Suh is 300 pounds of ridiculously sculpted muscle, Cody's gut is pendulous. Where Suh is unbelievably disruptive and athletic enough to drop into coverage and bat down and intercept passes at a tremendous rate for a defensive tackle, Cody is the prototypical space eater -- difficult to move, but not an active, sideline-to-sideline defensive tackle like Lamarr Houston. Since Cody mostly focuses on clogging the middle, he's not going to line up as a three technique and shoot gaps into the backfield to disrupt plays -- he'll play head up or shaded on the center, with only an occasional snap as a three technique over the outside shoulder of a guard.
The numbers support the perception of Cody as lacking as a playmaker, as Cody registered a season-high five tackles against North Texas and has only 25 stops on the season, with 11 tackles for loss and zero sacks. In other words, Cody is extremely limited as a pass rusher, coming off the field on many third downs and having registered only three quarterback hurries all season.
Dealing with Cody
There are several main ways to deal with Cody. The first one is obvious -- to double team him on running plays in an attempt to keep him from forcing cutbacks. That solution presents a major problem -- it forces an offensive linemen to stay on the line of scrimmage and keeps them from getting to the second level, allowing All-American linebacker Rolando McClain to make plays. Of course, any type of positive yardage on the ground is, well, positive for the Longhorns, so having a linebacker make the tackle is much more preferable than Cody getting all the stops, as Suh seemed to do in JerryWorld. The Longhorn coaches focus on getting consistent runs of four yards, a first down, or a touchdown, but the standard will probably be lower against Alabama. If Texas can pick up three yards per carry, meaning that they would have a 3rd and 4 situation with two runs on first and second down, that's probably acceptable.
The second solution is to play him straight up, running the risk that he will use his strong hands to fight off the blocker, a major concern for the Longhorns given the poor play of Chris Hall at times. When playing Cody straight up, the number one priority is not to think that simply leaning on him will keep him in check, as Cody does a solid job of using his hands to knock off offensive linemen -- in that way he's similar to Suh. In other words, Cody can be disruptive when allowed to extend his arms. The positive here is that Cody is a pure nose tackle, meaning that he would not likely be matched up against Michael Huey or David Snow, the two Longhorn guards who still suffer from nightmares featuring Suh. It's not clear why he doesn't do so more often, but it could be that because of the defensive scheme and/or his conditioning, he just doesn't even try to separate very often. Ballcarriers cannot expect a free pass throgh Cody's immediate vicinity just because he's facing a double team -- that's the most likely time for Cody to attempt to get separation and make a play.
Run, fat man, run
The final solution for dealing with Cody has nothing to do with blocking schemes. Rather, it has to do with the speed of the game. Cody often has to head to the sideline for a breather when opponents go on long drives against the Alabama defense -- an exceedingly rare occurrence. Conditioning is not his strength, no surprise considering his waistline, though he has reportedly lost a fairly significant amount of weight over the last year or so.
Likewise, the Texas offense has been at its best this season when accelerating tempo, particularly in the minutes before the half -- the Longhorns have scored in the last two minutes of the half nine times in 13 games this season, including game-changing touchdowns against Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M. Running the football against Alabama is much easier when Cody is not in the game -- that's not to say the Longhorns will simply gash the Tide just because Mt. Cody is on the sidelines, but it does mean that there is a much higher likelihood of success, especially given that the aims of the Texas running game are extremely modest.
All this is not to sell Cody short as a game-changing force in the middle of the defensive line. In terms of occupying space and blockers, Cody has perhaps no equal. The point is that Cody's conditioning and his lack of ability (or schematic role) as a pass rusher means that he is not the all-around threat of Ndamukong Suh. That lack of conditioning presents an opportunity for the Texas offense and allows Cody to be exploited. While getting Cody off the field to have a better chance of running the football is a major priority, accelerating the tempo and keeping a tired Cody on the field by not allowing substitutions may provide an even greater advantage.
The quarterback draw will probably be a big part of the running game, especially when the Longhorns go four wide and spread the field, forcing the linebackers to bail out into coverage. If Texas can force that look from Alabama, it could help the offense immensely, but the major question is whether the Longhorns can run that play with Cody in the game, as the big guy won't be easy to move out of the middle to ensure a running lane for McCoy. If that is the case, then the draw will only be effective when Cody is out of the game. If the Longhorns run the play with Cody in the game, they will have to decide if they can block Cody one-on-one. Double teaming Cody means that the center will not have a chance to get to the linebacker level to make what is a critical block on the play. However, if the Longhorns can get the linebackers to bail out into coverage before McCoy takes off, then getting to the second level is not as important. Texas will also have to decide whether they want the running back coming into the hole to lay a block or if they want to have the running back run a flare into the flat to pull a linebaker out of the middle of the field.
The major consideration is going up tempo is taking into account the needs of the Texas defense. The Alabama offense wants to control the ball and therefore control the clock, leading to some long defensive series during a game. Likewise, Tennessee stayed in the game by keeping the Alabama offense off the field for most of the first 20 minutes of the second half, providing a major rest for the defense and putting stress on the Tide defense. Any attempts to go up tempo (but not jet tempo) should be approved by Will Muschamp, taking into consideration the current state of the defense and understanding the potential costs of a quick three and out.
While there is little to no chance that Cody is as disruptive as Suh was against Texas, the big guy in the middle can still have a tremendous impact on the game by handcuffing the Texas running game and essentially put them at a numbers disadvantage in the box, a disadvantage basically the same as the one that forced Dan Buckner off the field and EBS into the lineup. To recover that advantage, Texas may have to run more zone read than usual to even the numbers again or Rolando McClain could end up single-handedly shutting down the Texas running game.