Tide O-Line Prepares For Big Challenge

Andre Smith has a memory of last year's Ole Miss game, a contest won by Alabama by a 27-24 margin in Oxford. It was a game with a finish that infuriated the locals. A long Ole Miss pass to the Alabama three-yard line with seconds remaining was (correctly) ruled incomplete because the Rebels receiver had run out of bounds.

As Alabama players left the field, they were pelted by all manner of debris, most memorably a woman's red high heel shoe. Andre Smith said he spotted his parents in the stands. "My father was shouting, ‘Put your helmet on!'" Smith said.

Smith, a 6-4, 330-pound junior left tackle, has another memory of that game. The Crimson Tide won, but not because it handled the Rebels' outstanding defensive end, Greg Hardy. Hardy had 13 tackles (nine solo), including four and a half tackles for losses totaling 29 yards and also had three sacks for two yards. He forced two fumbles and had two quarterback pressures.

"He's a great player," Smith said. "He's fast, he's explosive, he has a fast engine. He's always around the ball."

Smith's offensive line teammate, Mike Johnson, accepted blame for Hardy's big game. Johnson, a 6-6, 299-pound junior, will be at left guard Saturday when the Crimson Tide hosts Ole Miss. "He had a big day against us last year, particularly against me to be honest with you, at right tackle," Johnson said. "I had a rough day. He is a very talented and athletic guy. He is going to do nothing but good things in his career. He will be playing on Sunday. He is obviously a part of our film work and game plan."

The Crimson Tide and Rebels will meet at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the game will be nationally televised by CBS Sports, with Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter) calling the action.

The Crimson Tide is prepping for another tough, physical football game, as evidenced by the fact that the last three games between the Tide and Rebels have been decided by nine total points. Alabama won 13-10 in 2005, 26-23 in overtime in 2006 and 27-24 last year.

Johnson said moving from tackle to guard doesn't mean he has an easy job. "They have some pretty big guys," he said. "Their defense likes to run a lot of penetration up the middle. They expect their tackles to hold down the front and they do a really good of doing that. They let their linebackers roam and make plays. They have two pretty good guys coming off the edge, so this is a pretty big task for us this week."

Johnson pointed out that Alabama expects that type challenge. "In this league you go against talented guys every week," he said. "We just have to go out and play our game."

Smith gave the same evaluation of the Ole Miss defensive front. "They are big and physical, like Kentucky, and they tackle better. Their defensive ends are faster and more physical. And they are shifty

Smith has suffered with a sore throat and in Bama's last game against Kentucky had his elbow injured when someone landed on it. He said, "everything is fine. I'm full speed."

Smith also said that Alabama players came back from their open week with everyone "still focused. No one will be rusty – not the way we practice."

Smith won't be the only All-America offensive left tackle in the game. Mississippi's Michael Oher is on the same level as Smith. The two were roommates last summer when they went to Arizona for the Playboy All-America team festivities.

Smith said in Alabama's 6-0 start and rise to number two in the nation that he would give himself a grade of "high 80s, low 90s. There are things I can improve on."

Against Kentucky, he gave up the first sack he has allowed this year. "The sack was my fault," he said. "Coach Pendry had been telling me it was going to happen. And it did. He was right."

And what was Smith doing that Alabama Offensive Line Coach Joe Pendry had noticed?

"I can't disclose that," Smith said.

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