The Bearcats finally busted through the glass ceiling and punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff, after 2 consecutive undefeated regular seasons. Their prize? A trip to Arlington and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic where they get arguably the greatest dynasty in college football’s history, Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. It’ll be a tough test for the Bearcats as they make the journey to Arlington, Texas as 13.5 point underdogs. As Ric Flair said, “If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” I’ll break down the Alabama offense featuring Heisman winning QB Bryce Young and how the Bearcats can slow them down to give themselves a chance to make history and punch their ticket to Indianapolis.
Our @CFBPlayoff Semifinal at the 86th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic is set!
— Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (@CottonBowlGame) December 5, 2021
Anytime you get the opportunity to go against Alabama, you are going against a team chock full of talent, usually featuring the top recruiting class in the country. Not to mention they have had the last 2 Heisman Trophy winners, and 3 of the last 7. This year’s Crimson Tide features Heisman winning QB Bryce Young, who threw for 4322 yards, 43 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Their offense finished the regular season #4 overall scoring offense, averaging a total of 42.5 points per game. Young doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but will miss his #2 receiving target John Metchie, who tore his ACL against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. The Bearcats #1 Pass Efficiency Defense is going to get a big test in this game against Young.
Welcome to the Fraternity pic.twitter.com/2k3Oq4N49p
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) December 12, 2021
Young does keep his #1 target Jameson Williams who has 1445 receiving yards and 15 TDs. Williams, the Ohio State Transfer, came onto the scene this year after two seasons in Columbus, and elevated himself to a likely first round draft pick. Williams is 5th in the NCAA in yards per game and 3rd in receiving touchdowns. Sauce Gardner will have his hands full with Williams, who is without a doubt the best receiver he’s ever been matched up with. I look for Saban to find ways to keep Williams away from Gardner if he can, moving him around into the slot and trying to match him up against Coby Bryant, who changed his number to 8 in this game to honor the Black Mamba. This is a chance for both of our All American cornerbacks to make a statement that they are as advertised. In addition to Gardner and Bryant, we’ll need big play from Bryan Cook and Ja’von Hicks over the top to keep Williams in check.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 4, 2021
Alabama hasn’t had a strong running attack this year, only getting significant carries from Brian Robinson Jr. He finished the season playing in 12 games and rushing for 1064 yards and 14 TDs. Alabama ranks 80th in the country in rush yards per game, only averaging about 147, so they rely heavily on their passing game to get the ball down field.
Would love to see Brian Robinson Jr. go to a cut & go zone team. Impressive foot quickness for his size & excellent run strength. Best finisher in this class. pic.twitter.com/vjYopBdvK8
— Mark Dulgerian (@MarkDulgerian) December 17, 2021
Alabama’s offensive line has not been very good all year long. They have had issues at right tackle and are now down to their 3rd string center. They’ve allowed 36 sacks this year which ranks 105th in the NCAA. This also likely is a factor in their rushing attack. The left side of the offensive line is anchored by Consensus All American Evan Neal, who is also likely to be a First Round Draft pick, come April. He’s only given up 1 sack this season.
Evan Neal has only given up 1 sack on 532 pass-blocking snaps this season 💪
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 21, 2021
The Bearcats have an elite level defense that would have me feeling more confident if the Crimson Tide hadn’t just decimated Georgia, who was the #1 defense in the country at the time. How much of that was Saban knowing his former assistant or is it Alabama who is either hot or cold? Alabama struggled offensively against Florida, LSU, and Auburn. LSU and Auburn also feature elite level cornerbacks like Sauce Gardner. Alabama struggled offensively when Williams was ejected for targeting against the Auburn Tigers, only scoring 10 points in regulation and 3 for 59 minutes. For the Bearcats to win, the key is pretty simple, create pressure on Bryce Young and slow down Jameson Williams. If Cincinnati can do that, they should be booking buses for Indianapolis on January 10th.