Jones vs. Smith an enticing Sugar Bowl matchup
NEW ORLEANS — Julio Jones doesn’t often encounter opposing cornerbacks who can match him inch for inch and pound for pound. He will in Utah’s Sean Smith.
Jones is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound freshman who has often been able to outmuscle smaller corners both at the line of scrimmage, jockeying for the ball downfield and when they’re trying to tackle him. Smith is a 6-3, 218-pound All-Mountain West Conference first-team pick.
“Julio Jones in my opinion is the best freshman receiver in the country,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s a big physical guy. You watch him catch the ball and the SEC defenders just dripping off him. They can’t bring him down. It takes five or six guys to bring him down. But you know we have hopefully a pretty good counter answer.”
Whittingham said he hasn’t seen a bigger corner than Smith on any roster in college football. He said Smith will be matched up on Jones much of the game, especially when Utah loads the line against the run, leaving the corners in one-on-one coverage.
Smith figures he already has a leg up on some other corners who have tried to cover Jones.
“You don’t see any cornerbacks my size in the nation,” he said. “Usually DBs are like 5-10, 180. He just blows those guys right off the line and breaks several tackles. He’s definitely a challenge.”
Jones, a second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick, easily leads the Tide with 51 catches for 847 yards — both school freshman records. He came in widely regarded as the nation’s top receiver prospect.
“He’s not only a great talent but he takes practice to heart,” Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “He takes every (repetition) to heart. He plays hard. It’s important to him. Those are the things that really differentiate talent from greatness.”
Smith has five interceptions to tie for the MWC lead and has returned them for a league-leading 151 yards.
It’s a confrontation Smith would love to see as a spectator.
“Definitely. One of the biggest corners in the nation against one of the biggest receivers in the nation,” he said. “That’s a great matchup.”
JOHNSON’S PLANS: Utah players have a midnight curfew on New Year’s Eve, but that doesn’t seem to bother quarterback Brian Johnson.
He said he’s more focused on studying game film than partying on Bourbon Street during game week. He did see the famed party district in the French Quarter last Friday night.
“I didn’t really do too much down there,” he said. “It’s nice to go down there and see what it’s all about. I’ve been here before so it’s not new to me, but at the same time it’s a situation where I’m here to win a football game.
“I’ve got the rest of my life after this point to come down to Bourbon Street and hang out and do all that different fun stuff but I’ve got one shot at the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, so I’m doing everything I can to make this count.”
His New Year’s Eve plans? “I’ll probably go in the hotel and watch the ball drop or something. I don’t know.”
Johnson said he approaches bowl game preparation more as extra time to prepare than to party.
“As a senior class and as a program we have way too much riding on it to go down there and screw up the deal by hanging out on Bourbon Street too late,” he said.
RUNNING CODY: Terrence Cody wants the ball. The Tide’s huge All-America nose guard has been used a couple of times as a blocking back on the goal line, and Alabama scored both times.
Do ‘Bama coaches have any plays where the 6-foot-5, 365-pounder takes the handoff instead?
“Not right now,” Cody said. “They’ve still got me at fullback blocking for the running back in goal line situations. I don’t know if they’ve got any running plays for me.
“I’ve told them I could run the ball. I’ve told them put the ball in my hands and we’ll score. But I told them I might do something that you might not like after I score.”
Cody, who is known for exuberant celebrations, has been a focal point for the Utah offense. He has frequently drawn double-teams and even triple-teams this season.
The Utes’ biggest starting offensive lineman is 6-1, 310-pound right guard Robert Conley.
“I’ve never been up against a guy like Terrence Cody, with his size and athleticism,” 305-pound left tackle Zane Beadles said. “I don’t think we’ll do anything much schematically different. We’re going to go in and do the same things we’ve been successful at all season.
“He’s definitely a guy that we need to be aware of.”
Johnson believes his blockers will have a little extra incentive to fare well against Cody.
“I think they will get the opportunity to play with a chip on their shoulder because all we’ve heard for the past 30 days was having to block Mount Cody,” the Utes quarterback said.