NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was quick to acknowledge his players will be the little guys in more ways than one when the Utes take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Friday's game is not only a matchup of an SEC powerhouse and a non-BCS upstart from the Mountain West conference. It's a game between one of the most physical offensive lines in the country and an undersized defensive front that relies on stunts and quickness.
Alabama's smallest offensive lineman is 6-foot-2, 300-pound right guard Marlon Davis. Utah has a starting defensive tackle, Derrick Shelby, who weighs 240 pounds.
"It's no secret we are going to have to put at least eight or nine guys in the box to stop their run game or at least slow it down," Whittingham said Sunday morning, a day after both teams arrived in New Orleans. "I don't like the word finesse, but we are going to have to move a lot, slant and twist and that type of thing. It is what we have been doing all season long."
The plan has worked to this point. Utah finished second in the Mountain West conference in rushing defense despite a smallish front that certainly will be tested again against Alabama running back Glen Coffee, who has gained 1,347 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt.
"They are very athletic and very physical with the way they play," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It doesn't all come with size. Sometimes it comes with the guys' abilities to use their lower body with the explosiveness and quickness. Their quickness is something they use to their advantage."
The two teams also had a different approach to their second day in New Orleans. Utah did not practice, taking Sunday off as it has done all year. Alabama scheduled a work out in the afternoon.
Utah (12-0) and Alabama (12-1) have fewer combined losses than teams in any other bowl game. The Utes are bidding to become the first team to finish undefeated twice in the BCS era, which started in 1998. The Crimson Tide lost for the first time to Florida in the SEC Championship Game.