The Florida Gators picked a good time to go back to big in the middle of their offensive line.
The big Gator offensive line will face a huge Alabama defensive line Saturday in the SEC Championship game Saturday in Atlanta.
UF went back to its big look up front in the South Carolina game three weeks ago, moving 6-foot-6, 330-pound Carl Johnson back to guard from tackle and inserting true freshman Xavier Nixon at left tackle.
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With Johnson at guard again, the Gators have gone back to the same interior combination that worked so well last season: Johnson at left guard, 315-pound Mike Pouncey at right guard and 310-pound Maurkice Pouncey at center.
The Gators’ timing is good: Mammoth Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody is listed as 354 pounds, but actually is probably closer to 380.
And Cody isn’t just a big guy. He’s also a big talent.
“We hung in there pretty good with him last year,” UF coach Urban Meyer said. “But you’re not going to move this guy off the ball. To simulate that in practice is hard. They’re aren’t many human beings like that. He’s a great player.”
At Alabama, they call him “Mount Cody” because he’s immovable. But he sure can move, especially after improving his quickness and durability after spending a full year in the Tide’s offseason conditioning program for the first time.
“Terrence has really worked hard to get in a little better shape, have a little better endurance, be able to sustain a little bit better and play with a little more quickness and mobility,” Alabama coach NickSaban said. “He’s a real power guy. He’s always been that.
“But we’ve been really pleased with all the other things that he’s improved on. He’s maintained his weight a little better. His conditioning is better. Those things have really helped him improve as a player.”
Even when he wasn’t in great physical condition last season, Cody was one of the most dominant and disruptive defensive players in the nation. Now, he’s moving better and playing harder for longer periods.
“He’s the biggest load of the year. Massive,” Mike Pouncey said. “He’s a great player. He stops the run real well. He’s a big dude to block. We’ve got to work real hard this week to block him.”
Pouncey said there is no one on the scout team who can simulate Cody in practice. Not even close.
“Unless we put Carl Johnson on defense, because (Cody) is about 400 pounds,” Pouncey said. “We’re going to play our game, play real physical. We’re ready. We hope he is too.”
The Johnson-Pouncey-Pouncey combination worked well against Cody in last year’s SEC title game. Cody made only three tackles, none for losses, and the Gators produced two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to win the game 31-20.
Moving Johnson back inside to guard a few weeks ago is looking good now.
“You need that presence inside,” Meyer said. “When coach (Steve) Addazio did that, it was a great tactical move.”
The move seems to have solidified UF’s offensive line, which was struggling with consistency (especially in pass protection) earlier in the season. The line is now big and physical inside and long and athletic on the outside with tackles Nixon (6-6, 285-pound) and Marcus Gilbert (6-6, 315).
“(The switch) meant a lot,” Pouncey said. “Nixon is playing good, and moving Carl inside was a big key for us. Having two good guards really helps the offense a lot.”
The Gators are big in the middle again. And they’re facing a huge challenge Saturday. But they seem up to it.
“Cody is huge, man. Real big,” Pouncey said. “He’s a great player, but we have a lot of great players on our offensive line, too. It’s going to be a good matchup.
“He ain’t Superman, now. He can be blocked. We just have to go out and put out a lot of effort. We have to be ready to go play. The toughest player is going to win.”
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