ARLINGTON, Texas – The home that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones built continues to be the home of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
In No.1 Alabama’s seventh appearance in the college football playoffs, the sport’s dominant power over the past decade has beaten No.4 Cincinnati, the first non-Power 5 team in the playoffs, 27 -6 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
The victory puts Alabama (13-1) in the title game for the fifth time in six years and one step closer to their fourth title since the introduction of the playoff system. The school will be looking for a seventh title since Saban became the program’s head coach, against No.3 Georgia on January 10.
Behind Bryce Young’s three touchdowns, along with Brian Robinson Jr.’s 204 rushing yards (an Alabama bowl record) and a defense that held the nation’s ninth-best single-digit offense, Alabama edged out the Bearcats. 483-218 and controlled the pace of the game from start to finish.
“We knew the battle in the trenches would be a big deal,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “This is where the game was won.”
Robinson Jr. said: “We just proved that we are the most physical team.”
The Crimson Tide is now 6-0 at AT&T Stadium under Saban.
Alabama set the winning formula for this game early on by hogging the ball for 10 of 15 minutes in the first quarter and going 106 yards on 18 carries. He would end the game with over 33 minutes of possession.
“We’ve had a few games like this this year,” Saban said. “A lot of these racing games that we had, had [run pass options] and passes attached to them. But the way they lined up on defense, that was decisive reading. They sometimes took the RPOs. I thought [Young] made some really good decisions. “
With Heisman-winning quarterback Young under center, the Tide ran the ball 10 times for 62 yards in his first practice. It was the most rushed attempts on a first possession since a 2008 game against Arkansas State. The Cincinnati defensive line looked helpless as the Robinson Jr. and Alabama backers gained 6.2 yards per carry on what became an 11-play, 75-yard practice that ended when Young made the move. threw his first pass of the game – an 8-yard throw to wide receiver Slade Bolden.
Young’s first touchdown pass was his 44th this year, which broke Tua Tagovailoa’s record of 43 touchdowns in 2018.
Cincinnati (13-1) responded with a balanced attack, moving the ball across the field at the rate of short passes to four different receivers and at a rate that seemed to confuse the Alabama defense. But once the Bearcats entered the red zone, Alabama called for a timeout and their defense – which had allowed just one touchdown on their first defensive try all season against LSU – held Cincinnati. to a field placement.
When Young finally stepped back to pass the field more often, the Bearcats were able to put pressure on him, but he still provided crucial passes on several third downs and a quarterback to keep the practices alive. In the second quarter, the Cincinnati defense finally managed to stop a third down when Young rushed for a 12-yard run on the third and the goal ran out of the end zone, setting up a field goal that had put the Tide up to 10-3.
The first practice was all the Bearcats had to show for their efforts. The Cincinnati offense made three consecutive first-half practices as quarterback Desmond Ridder was pressured on seven of his 21 first-half setbacks and was sacked three times. The Cincinnati front line continued to reach Young as well, but could do nothing to stop the race.
“We knew we were going to have the chance to throw the ball,” Robinson Jr. said. “I didn’t think I was going to be in the spotlight.”
As Alabama’s offensive line opened holes at will, Robinson Jr. ran on a Cincy defense who had allowed just 137 rushing yards per game. Robinson Jr., who had 63 yards after contact in the first half and 95 yards after contact the entire game, eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark with six minutes left in the first half and had 134 at the half. -time. He had never passed 99 meters in a half before. Robinson Jr. would end the game averaging nearly 8 yards per carry.
“Whatever role he played on the team he was ready to do it,” Saban said of the senior red shirt who has been on the program since 2017. “He had some tough races tonight, he got a lot. of yards after first contact … he embodies what we try to get our players to do, create value for himself in everything they do. “
At first, Tide’s dominance on the pitch made his decision to continue throwing the ball questionable. Even though they averaged over 6 yards per carry as a team, O’Brien continued to go for Young’s arm. After some incompleteness, two punters and a failed 44-yard field goal, Young finally made it. With less than two minutes to go, he dropped a perfect 44-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Corey Brooks to give them a 17-3 lead.
Alabama, who entered the game 109-1 as they led at least 14 at halftime under Saban, didn’t look back.
The Cincinnati offense once again got things going in the second half with another impressive five-minute drive that looked promising but stalled after the Bearcats entered the red zone. Instead of going for the fourth and fifth, Fickell let the opportunity pass to get six points on the disc and decided to score another basket. At the right time, their subsequent practice ended with a three-way punt and out.
“So many of those games were just inches away,” Cincinnati linebacker Joel Dublanko said. “A few missed tackles here and there that really took a toll on us. I think we absolutely belong to this game.”
In the third quarter, Young knocked down a receiver on the third down; it was only his fifth interception all season. The pick would be irrelevant – the Alabama defense beat another Ridder pass (they knocked down five the entire game), then sent it back to third to force another Cincinnati punt.
Throughout the game, the Alabama defense made life miserable for Ridder, sacking him six times and preventing the Bearcats from extending practice. Cincinnati converted their first two-thirds of the game, then went 0 for 10 on the third down and 0 for 3 on the fourth down.
“I’m so happy … that we trained for a few weeks,” said linebacker Will Anderson Jr. “We were ready for whatever they threw at us.”
Ridder completed 17 of his 32 passes and finished with just 144 yards, by far his worst game of the season.
“We only carried the flag for ourselves,” Ridder said. “We wanted it to end differently, I wish it had ended differently. I hope there are other teams in the Group of 5 or teams from any conference that can qualify for them. playoffs and show they can compete with the best of the best. “
Young’s poise, meanwhile, led to a 5 out of 13 pass rate in the third downs for the Tide. His third touchdown pass of the night, a 9-yard throw to Cameron Latu, pushed him over 4,500 passing yards this season, breaking Mac Jones’ school record from last season.
Earlier this week, Saban explained that it took a little longer for this Alabama team to get on the right track. On Friday after the game, he mentioned how a little different his approach to motivating the team all season had been.
“I don’t want to call it education, but I felt like we had to do it with this team,” Saban said. “Hanging on to these guys all the time wasn’t going to help their confidence, wasn’t going to help the young players develop.”
Alabama’s semifinal victory, much like their SEC Championship win over Georgia, seems to indicate that Saban’s approach has worked. Some of the numbers from Friday’s victory tell the story of an eruption. While Alabama hasn’t dominated as usual, it has shown that while Saban’s side this season isn’t one of the best, they’re still good enough to win it all.