Can Cincinnati slow the Alabama Football offense? The Bearcats’ defense is filled with experienced players and Luke Fickell’s secondary is one of the best in college football. The Crimson Tide’s opposing position group will miss its No. 1 receiver in terms of total receptions.
Not having John Metchie III for the Playoffs is a big loss for the Crimson Tide. Which one or two guys step up to replace Metchie’s role is not known. There is plenty of less-used, wide receiver talent in the Crimson Tide’s roster.
Without Metchie to defend, the Bearcats’ secondary can use bracket coverage to try and contain Jameson Williams. Another option would be a zone scheme with one Bearcats’ cornerback in man coverage on Williams on every play. Luke Fickell has the advantage of two top cornerbacks and capable help in all of his nickel secondary.
In a traditional boundary corner role, Ahmad Gardner has pretty much taken one side of the field away from Cincinnati’s opponents. Gardner is so respected, he is rarely targeted. Based on a slim frame, Gardner took time to develop, but one of Gardner’s stats, calculated by Pro Football Focus is staggering.
It is hard to argue with such results. Alabama football fans will counter with the fact Gardner has not had that success against a Heisman-winning QB and one of the fastest receivers in college football, Jameson Williams.
Statistically, the other Bearcats’ corners have produced more than Gardner. Gardner has four pass breakups and three interceptions; Coby Bryant has 11 pass breakups and two interceptions and Arquon Bush has six pass breakups and three interceptions. Cincinnati’s safeties, Bryan Cook and Ja’von Hicks have a combined 12 pass breakups and three interceptions. Cook is also the third-leading tackler for the Bearcats.
An additional advantage Cincinnati has is game preparation affords plenty of time to dissect everything the Crimson Tide has done offensively this season. It is hard to imagine Bill O’Brien will show anything new in the semi-final game. To the extent the Tide is holding on to some offensive wrinkles, it is likely to save them for a National Championship game.
Some national pundits argue that the Bearcats have the best pair of cornerbacks in college football. Gardner has been selected to multiple All-American teams and Cody Bryant was the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award winner. Taking nothing away from the fine football players, most of the stats they compiled this season have been against weak opposition. Seven of the teams the Bearcats beat this season are in a range of No. 81 – No. 114 in sacks allowed. Frequent quarterback pressure is the strongest tool in making secondary play more effective.
Cincinnati is aggressive in bringing heat against opposing QBs. Until the Georgia game, pass protection had been a problem for the Crimson Tide all season. The Dawgs recorded no sacks against Alabama Football in the SEC Championship game. A subsequent post will take a close look at Cincinnati’s defensive front and their prospects against the Crimson Tide.
A quick thought is, up front, Georgia is better. The Bearcats are better than Georgia in the secondary.