ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith was asked what he thought about the impending matchup between Alabama All-American center Barrett Jones and teammate John Jenkins.
“I guess that’ll be like ‘Clash of the Titans,’ ” Smith said. “It’s going to be good old-fashioned football. People are going to be excited to see it. That’s what we play the game for.”
There is a variety of interesting subplots for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game matchup between second-ranked Alabama and third-ranked Georgia, but none is more interesting than the meeting in the middle of the field between the Crimson Tide’s most highly acclaimed offensive player and the defensive guy assigned to stop him.
Alabama coach Nick Saban paid Jenkins the highest compliment when he compared the 6-foot-3, 351-pound Jenkins to former Alabama noseguard, Terrence Cody.
Cody anchored the middle of the Alabama defensive line in 2008 and 2009, earning All-America honors despite a lack of statistics and little playing time on passing downs because of his nationwide reputation for clogging up the middle of the opposing offense.
“He reminds me a lot of Cody when we had him here,” Saban said. “He’s a hard guy to block. Any time you play an odd (front) defense, a 3-4 defense, and you can’t block the nose guard, it makes it hard to run a lot of plays. They have a good scheme, lots of experience. It obviously starts with him playing and clogging up the middle. That, always, is a good starting point.”
Jenkins, a fun-loving and outspoken senior that is similar in personality to Cody, seemed genuinely touched by the praise from Saban.
“I lived in (Cody’s) shadows my whole two years (at MGCCC),” Jenkins said. “Did I. But for Nick Saban to give me that type of compliment is a big deal, almost an honor. Nick Saban is very respected in the college football world and he recruited ‘Mount Cody.’ It’s a big honor for Nick Saban to say that.”
Jenkins is the third consecutive nose guard from the junior college to join the Southeastern Conference following Cody in 2008 and James Carmon (2010), who signed with Mississippi State as a defensive player and moved to offense his senior season. Jenkins was among the top junior college recruits in the country after his sophomore season at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC and considered following Cody to Alabama.
There was one problem. Another highly recruited junior college player, Jesse Williams, had earned his associate’s degree at Western Arizona Community in December and enrolled at Alabama in January.
“When I was coming out, it was me and Jesse,” Jenkins recalled. “We had the same similarities in schools we wanted to visit and everything. I don’t know if he was doing what I was doing, but I was looking like, ‘I don’t want to go here if he goes here. There’s no point.’ Once they got Jesse (interest in Alabama waned). He was able to leave in January and I wasn’t.”
Jenkins, like Williams, made an immediate impact with his college team, starting seven games in 2011 and recording six tackles for loss, 10 quarterback pressures and even an interception in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.
This season, he has 44 tackles and 12 quarterback pressures, clogging the middle on runs and creating pressure up the middle in passing situations.
As Jenkins prepares for his second consecutive appearance in the SEC Championship Game, he thought back to a recruiting tip from his junior college roommate, defensive end Wayne Dorsey, who had committed to play at Ole Miss.
“This is the reason we join the SEC, to play the best of the best,” he said. “I remember going through the recruiting process and Wayne Dorsey and I was roommates and he said, ‘Brother, you don’t need to look at any other conference. Only the best of the best is in the SEC.’
“It’s not even about looking at (Alabama) and saying they have the (nation’s) best offensive line, just look at the circumstances. They’re in the SEC championship just like we’re in the SEC championship. Everything about them is good.”
Georgia players are banking on Jenkins, who has been a terror in the middle this season.
“That guy (Barrett Jones) is big and physical and can make plays and John is a big guy,” Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “He’s a speedy guy and he’s strong, too.”
Saban, who moved Jones from left tackle to center this season, is counting on his star to neutralize the Georgia threat in the middle of the defensive line.
“He (Jones) is an extremely smart player,” Saban said. “This is his first year playing center, but he’s done a really good job for us. His efficiency as a blocker, whoever he’s had to block, has been really good for us this year. I think center is a critical position. He’s certainly done a fantastic job for us.”
Jenkins is downplaying the matchup but enjoying the attention it is receiving.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment,” he said. “You always have to think about the journey and it was a long journey here. A lot of people took us out when we lost to South Carolina and now we’re in one of the biggest shows in America.”