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Terrence Cody is the most irreplaceable player on 'Bama.
AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Terrence Cody stood at the mouth of the tunnel that leads to the Alabama locker room early Saturday evening, leaning on the strongest crutches money can buy. He watched his Crimson Tide teammates escape with a 24-20 win against an Ole Miss team that trailed by three touchdowns before the 365-pound nose tackle injured his right knee early in the third quarter.

Even as they celebrated the win, Alabama players and coaches had to cringe a little as they awaited news of Cody's condition. The play had looked bad, and it had sucked the air from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Cody locked up with Ole Miss guard Darryl Harris. He never saw Ole Miss back Brandon Bolden and a horde of tacklers rolling in behind him. The entire ball of humanity crashed into the back of Cody's legs, and he crumbled.

Fellow nose tackle Josh Chapman saw Cody and inquired about the injury. "He gave me the grin," Chapman said. "That means, 'Yeah, I'm going to be all right.' "

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Alabama's medical staff told him Cody needed an MRI, but preliminary indications are that he has an injury similar to the one 'Bama offensive tackle Andre Smith suffered earlier this season. Smith missed one game. Saban said that unless the MRI reveals a nasty surprise, Cody might miss "a couple weeks," which means the nation's most dominant landmass could be back by the time Alabama faces LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 8.

On Saturday, Tide coaches realized they need Cody more than ever. After spending the first half of the season eliminating the option of running between the tackles, Cody added a line to his resume against the Rebels. When Alabama's offense nears the goal line, Cody can wipe out one side of the defense.

The crowd roared midway through Saturday's second quarter when the giant sprinted into the offensive huddle with the Tide facing second-and-goal from the Ole Miss two-yard line. Cody lined up to in front and to the left of freshman Mark Ingram in an offset I-formation. At the snap, Cody hurled himself into the defense, erasing linebacker Patrick Trahan and safety Kendrick Lewis. Ingram followed Cody into the end zone. After the play, Cody careened toward the sideline, looking for somebody to hug.

Saban said 'Bama coaches added Cody to the goal line package during the bye week. "I don't think there's any rocket science to it," Saban said. "You have a great big guy that is very powerful that took almost the whole side of the line and moved it on that particular play. It would have been a better question if you'd said, 'Why didn't you do it sooner?' "

Cody's injury probably eliminates any expansion of his offensive role. That means he most likely won't get to carry the ball -- the go-to goal line play during Cody's senior season at Fort Myers (Fla.) Riverdale High.

Against Tennesee and Arkansas State, the Tide should have little trouble without Cody. If the MRI reveals he'll be out longer, that would be a major blow to a team with realistic national title hopes.

Maybe the Rebels got a psychological boost after Cody's injury, because they finally began moving the ball. Or maybe Alabama let its guard down because it had a three-touchdown lead.

The second theory certainly is plausible. In the past four weeks, the second-ranked Tide outscored Georgia, Kentucky and Ole Miss 69-3 in the first half and got outscored 61-13 by those teams in the second half. Saban has hammered that point home after every game, but so far, his team hasn't been able to maintain its intensity with a lead.

We'll know in the next few days whether Cody's injury is minor or major. Either way, he's in good hands. Alabama's team physician is James Andrews. Yes, that James Andrews. Of course, in all the hoopla over Cody's injury, his stint at fullback and the Rebels' comeback, no one asked Saban the obvious question. Where will the Tide find an MRI machine big enough for Cody?

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