The average margin of defeat in the semi-final round of the college football playoff has been 20.93 points. And as much of the college football landscape was hoping to witness something spectacular, they witnessed the latest chapter in the Nick Saban story. The Cotton Bowl saw firsthand how Alabama rolls over even the best teams in college football by defeating Cincinnati by the score of 27-6
Size Difference Apparent Early
Alabama’s opening drive was a stark reminder of what Luke Fickell’s team was up against. The Tide ran the ball all the way down the field, only attempting two passes on the drive. One of those passes turned into a Bryce Young run. Alabama’s offensive line, which was much maligned all season by Alabama standards, established dominance and reset the line of scrimmage against the smaller defensive front of Cincinnati for an early 7-0 lead. That Crimson Tide rushing attack would finish the first quarter with 106 yards on the ground.
But the Bearcats promptly marched back down the field to the Alabama nine-yard line. Unfortunately, Cincinnati had two passing plays (a tipped pass and a dropped pass) that would have resulted in a tieing touchdown. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal. Against most teams, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But when trying to upset the number one team in the nation in the playoff, settling for field goals in the red zone makes the mountain that much harder to climb.
Cincinnati was utilizing quick pass attempts throughout the first half to help keep the Alabama pass rush at bay. It did not matter. Alabama still had three sacks in the first half. But they just didn’t get home for sacks The Tide disrupted the passing attack with passes knocked down. Cincinnati had three passes knocked down in the first half. This is especially worth noting because Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder is listed at 6’4”.
Critical End To The First Half
The Bearcats were forced to punt with 3:39 left in the first half. After a personal foul penalty, it put Alabama on their own six-yard line. With two timeouts, Cincinnati was looking to get a stop to flip the field. Points before the half would have been a game-changer. The Bearcats were looking to double up their possessions since they received the ball to start the second half.
But instead, Alabama marched 94 yards down the field in just over two minutes and push the lead to 17-3. Cincinnati did get one more chance on offense after a great kickoff return to almost midfield. But again, Cincinnati couldn’t do anything with it after back-to-back sacks by Dallas Turner and unanimous First Team All-American Will Anderson to close out the half. Thanks to those sacks, Cincinnati was limited to 76 yards of offense in the first half, a record low in the playoff history.
Alabama Rolls Behind Physicallity On Line Of Scrimmage
The Bearcats came out in the 2nd half with more designed runs for Ridder, and it helped them get down to the Alabama 19. But ultimately, the line of scrimmage battle was won by Alabama and kept them from finding the end zone again. At the time the score was 17-6, but it was yet another sign that Alabama would keep Cincinnati from finding the end zone. This was the first time a team failed to score a touchdown in the playoffs since the 2018 Cotton Bowl. Even after forcing Young into an interception, Alabama’s defense shut down any potential momentum swing with a quick three-and-out. Ridder would finish the game 17-32 for 144 yards. The Cincinnati offense would finish with only 218 yards of total offense.
Young did not have to do much thanks to a dominant rushing attack throughout. Young finished the game 17-28 for 181 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. The rushing attack, which finished with a total of 302 yards, was spearheaded by Brian Robinson Jr. He led the team with 26 carries for 204 yards. The entire game felt as if Alabama could have blown this game out on any given play because of how well they controlled the line of scrimmage. Credit needs to be given to the Cincinnati defense for punching above its weight class. The defense made Young look uncomfortable for much of the game. And while it felt like Alabama was going to pull away for much of the game, the fact is they never truly put this game away until late in the fourth quarter.
Alabama Awaits Winner Of Orange Bowl
The Crimson Tide now will await to see who they square off against in the national championship game. Will they get a rematch with the Georgia Bulldogs? Or will it be Jim Harbaugh and Michigan that will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana to take their shot at Alabama? Both teams should match up better in the trenches and should provide a thrilling national championship game on January 10th.