The Utah Utes got their first chance last week to study Alabama's vaunted running game in anticipation of their matchup in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
First impressions? The Crimson Tide run a simple offense, but one that's very effective and tough to stop.
"They run the ball no matter who you are," said cornerback Sean Smith. "No matter what the score is, they're going to run the ball and you have to stop it. Even when you think you've stopped it, they're going to run it again."
Alabama ranks 23rd in the nation in rushing offense, gaining an average of 196.5 yards per game. The Crimson Tide are led by junior running back Glen Coffee, who averaged 6.1 yards per carry and gained 1,347 yards in 13 games this season.
Coffee played his best at the end of the season, rushing for more than 100 yards in three of Alabama's last four games. He ran for 112 yards on 21 carries and scored a touchdown in his team's 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC Championship game.
The Tide also give the ball to freshman Mark Ingram, who rushed for 702 yards in his debut season. Junior Roy Upchurch was counted on earlier in the year, but he suffered neck spasms later in the season and missed the SEC title game.
There's no question that the Crimson Tide will simply line up, run straight at the Utes and try and impose their will with their old-style rushing attack.
"They run the ball really well," said defensive end Paul Kruger. "It's a fundamental offense, nothing spectacular. They're methodical and they pound you all game. They're just real good at what they do."
Alabama doesn't feature an explosive passing game. Quarterback John Parker Wilson finally won over some members of his team's passionate fan base with steady play as a game manager in his senior season. Wilson has a solid receiving threat to throw to in freshman Julio Jones. He caught 51 passes for 847 yards and four touchdowns.
Smith and the rest of Utah's secondary probably won't have to concern themselves with much else in Alabama's passing game, as the next most productive receiver on the Crimson Tide's roster, Nick Walker, hauled in just 29 passes.
Alabama's passing game becomes more effective after it establishes its running game.
"Every now and then they'll catch you off guard with play action," Smith said.
It will be strength vs. strength when Alabama attempts to run the ball on the Utes. Utah ranked 11th in the nation against the run, allowing 104.8 yards per game.
Knowing how well they stopped the run during the season gives the Utes the confidence they need to slow down one of the nation's most physical and tough rushing teams.
Smith said the Utes' defense respects Alabama's rushing game, and he sees some similarities between the two teams."Like us I don't think they were given lot of respect coming up," Smith said. "They didn't have the big names like the Tim Tebows and the (Sam) Bradfords and all that. They kept winning and winning and beating quality opponents kind of like we did. The only difference is they're in a BCS conference so they got more exposure."
Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
Jan. 2, 6 p.m.
TV: Ch. 13; Radio: 700 AM
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