Alabama handled business in the Cotton Bowl, using a physical mark of football to send the Cincinnati No.4 home by a score of 27-6. It was far from a perfect performance, but it was ultimately dominant and, most importantly, a victory.
First, let’s start with the good. For one game, the defense looked as strong as it has been in a decade. Cincinnati’s 76 yards in the first half was a record for any college football playoff halftime. and they didn’t have much luck in the second. The Bearcats were able to find a little leeway at times, but the pass rush was fierce and there didn’t seem to be much separation against the exhausted Alabama high school. Brian Branch played like a possessed man, delivering big hits, deflecting passes and reliably tackling all night.
Will Anderson was his usual terrifying self. When he didn’t fire Ridder, he scared him to death. DJ Dale and Phidarian Mathis both made some noise pushing the pocket and hitting the balls down, and the LB duo of Henry To’o To’o and Christian Harris have probably had their best games of the season. Cincinnati came in trying to live on short passes down the middle, and there just wasn’t much success there.
Outside, it’s hard to complain about the effort of Kool Aid McKinstry and Khyree Jackson. They have admirably replaced injured starters Josh Jobe and Jalyn Armor-Davis, combining to keep WR leader Alec Pierce to just two catches for 17 yards. Potential first-round QB Desmond Ridder was capped at just 4.5 yards per attempt, and the Bearcats were shooting a paltry 218 total yards on 3.75 per game.
Offensively, the racing game was the best of the season. Brian Robinson set an Alabama playoff record with 204 rushing yards, an incredible feat for a young man who came back for a sixth season just for the chance. So many people assumed during the preseason that he would be ignored on the depths board, but as the season progressed the Tuscaloosa product became one of Alabama’s most essential players. B Rob is yet another in a long line of stories of perseverance in the Saban era.
Bryce Young naturally struggled at times against a defense with a pesky passing run and a pair of locking corners. It was a little curious how the Bearcats decided to keep their safeties deep given the talent they have away from home and how difficult Alabama sometimes has with the zero blitz, but it’s exactly what they did. As a result, Jameson Williams had to settle for shorter catches in this one.
The offensive line was outstanding in the running game, but struggled with the speed of the small Cincinnati passers. The right side of the offensive line looked like a weakness again after a stellar game against Georgia. To add insult to injury, Chris Owens is late and we don’t yet know the seriousness. LG Emil Ekiyor fell earlier in the game, prompting five-star rookie JC Latham to enter. Latham apparently acquitted himself well. Needless to say, the Tide will need to protect Young if they are to win another national title, regardless of who they are against.
Special teams narrowly avoided an abject disaster. There was a missed basket and a few longer returns than necessary, but luckily McKinstry was able to grab JoJo Earle’s punt and Will Reichard’s kickoff that could have gone out of bounds decided to roll straight on. the sideline. Williams was also rocked on a kickoff return and missed a streak on offense. The whole fanbase heaved a sigh of relief upon his return.
So that’s about it. Alabama managed to beat a good team with their defense and running game, and it’s a welcome site. We know how to wait and see if it will be Georgia or Michigan who will join us in Indianapolis.