In the three weeks remaining until the college football playoff kicks off, Alabama football has a lot of work to do in getting its offense acclimated to life without John Metchie. The junior receiver, who is a staple in the Tide offense, was injured in the SEC championship game and is out for the season.
Given the talent on its roster, I don’t think Alabama will have any trouble replacing Metchie’s impressive receiving production. These touches will likely be divided between young receivers Traeshon Holden and Ja’Corey Brooks, as well as junior tight ends Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu. All of these guys are capable playmakers, and they will have the Heisman favorite distributing the ball to them.
Alabama football: Metchie as a blocker
However, Metchie’s value goes far beyond his receiving production. He also doubles as the Crimson Tide’s best perimeter blocker. Metchie frequently springs running plays or frees up one of his fellow receivers downfield, and he’s able to do so without garnering penalty flags.
Alabama’s younger receivers will have to block better than they have shown they are capable all year. Cincinnati features a pair of elite, physical defensive backs that will be able to take away Alabama’s quick screen game if they are not blocked effectively. Guys like Brooks and Holden will have to find a way to make these plays legally so as not to set the offense back.
Alabama football: Metchie as a decoy
Metchie also provides immense intangible value. He draws a lot of attention, and the threat of Metchie allows Jameson Williams to run buckwild. This is not much different from Metchie’s own breakout season in 2020, when the presence of Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle often freed up the sophomore.
It will be interesting to see how much Cincinnati is able to key in on Williams and how effective they can be in doing so. Georgia was able to stymie the Alabama offense for much of the second half without Metchie on the field. Of course, Alabama was content to burn clock, but it was unable to move the chains when it needed to. Outside of an explosive play to Jameson Williams, the offense put together only one sustained drive and scored only three points in the second half.
Alabama’s three possessions between Jameson Williams’ 3rd quarter touchdown and Will Reichard’s late field goal looked like this: 12 plays, 54 yards, two first downs, three punts. These three drives took only 4:13 off the clock combined. There is a misconception that Alabama was just trying to run the ball at this point in the game, but 11 of these 12 plays were pass attempts. The passing game was very clearly missing some of its rhythm without Metchie.
Cincinnati and Georgia are 1st and 2nd respectively in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Alabama will have to get Holden and Brooks a lot of reps in the coming weeks if this receiving corps is going to mesh. Bryce Young will have to build some chemistry with these guys for the passing offense to have any semblance of balance or fluidity come December 31st.
Alabama football: Metchie as a leader
Lastly, Alabama will miss Metchie’s leadership. The most experienced wideout in the room, he keeps a cool and collected demeanor that seems infectious amongst the receivers. This leadership role will likely fall to Jameson Williams, who is more impulsive and emotional than Metchie. His energy is also infectious, and has been a welcome and incredible addition to the receiver room.
However, Williams’ energy has been beneficial in contrast with Metchie’s relaxed disposition, and it has backfired at times. Williams has drawn a flag for targeting as well as one for a dead-ball personal foul this season. Obviously, he should try to avoid such errors in the playoff. Williams may need to bring a more level-headed and mature presence to the Cotton Bowl to set the tone for the younger receivers that will follow his lead.
John Metchie’s role in this offense is both enormous and complex, and his injury will make winning the championship much tougher.
In 2020, Alabama lost a key cog of its offense in an SEC championship game victory. That team was good enough to overcome the setback and bring home a title. Let’s hope the 2021 team can do the same.