Johnson Knows What It's Like To Be Underdog
Alabama is preparing to face Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game at the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta on Saturday. Kickoff will be shortly after 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) with national television coverage by CBS.
Alabama is 12-0 and ranked first in the nation in every meaningful poll. The Tide was 8-0 in SEC play in winning the Western Division. Florida is 11-1 overall and 7-1 in SEC play and ranked second in the Associated Press poll and fourth in the BCS poll.
The winner of Saturday's game will go to Miami to play the BCS national championship game on January 8. The loser goes to the Sugar Bowl on January 2.
Despite having a better record and being higher ranked, Alabama is not the favorite in the game. That didn't come as a major shock to Alabama junior offensive guard Mike Johnson. "We've been the underdog before," he said. "We were ranked 24th in the nation before the start of the season."
One of those underdog moments came before the opening game of the year when the Tide upset ninth-ranked Clemson in the GeorgiaDome, where Saturday's game will be played.
"It's really been unusual for us to have been the favorite in some recent games," Johnson said.
Alabama is coming into the game off a convincing win over in-state rival Auburn. It was an unusual game in that Alabama's running attack went frequently to the right side rather than the left, where it usually operates behind Johnson and All-America left tackle Andre Smith.
"They were putting four over me and Andre," Johnson said.
He said Alabama got even for the mismatch late in the game when the Tide faced second and goal at the one-yard line. Massive Terrence Cody (6-5, 365), a nose tackle, was inserted into the lineup as a "fullback" behind Smith and Johnson. Mark Ingram went in for the touchdown.
"When he's behind you it seems like there are two men," Johnson said. "It's like we're playing with 12 men."
After the game Cody complained that he didn't get to block anyone "because everyone ran away." Johnson agreed.
"Looking at the film, it looked like no one wanted any part of him," Johnson said. "Fortunately, we were able to get the touchdown without Cody getting a block."
Johnson doesn't expect Florida to put extra defenders against the left side of the line. "I expect them to play us straight up," Johnson said. "They have a great defense."
Johnson said, "Everyone's spirits are high. We're ready to go out and play. That's what we do. We've worked hard for 18 weeks. We've studied our opponent and the scout team has given us a great look."
He said Alabama practices have been good. "We're trying to keep doing the same things we've done all year," he said. That means establish a running game.
"We're a downhill type of team," he said. "We don't have a lot of plays that go backwards."
He said before the season started that he thought the Alabama offensive line "had the ability to be the best offensive line in the conference. I still feel that way, and we've got one more chance to prove it."
That will be difficult, he said. "They are fast and athletic," he said. "They do a good job with their schemes. You can see they are well-coached. But it's not anything we totally haven't seen. We'll know our assignments."
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