With the Cotton Bowl CFP semifinal game between Alabama football and Cincinnati on the horizon, much attention has been given to Alabama’s explosive passing game. The matchup between Bama’s air attack and the Bearcats’ star-studded secondary has been a major talking point leading up to the game, and deservedly so. Heisman trophy winner Bryce Young, Biletnikoff finalist Jameson Williams, and the rest of the cast will face off against a talented defensive backfield that features Thorpe award winner Coby Bryant.
While Young’s ability to push the ball vertically down the field will undoubtedly be a huge determining factor in the outcome of this game, the contest could very well be decided in the trenches.
The Alabama running game is flying under the radar, perhaps because it has been underwhelming this season in comparison to typical Nick Saban teams. The Tide ranks 80th nationally with only 147.6 yards per game on the ground. The inconsistency of the offensive line has been well documented, and the Alabama running back room has been decimated by injuries.
Sophomores Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, as well as freshman Camar Wheaton, all suffered season ending knee injuries. Even Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders, the last two scholarship running backs standing, haven’t been at full health for much of the season.
With all of that being said, I don’t think the Bearcats’ defense matches up well. They have been subpar against the run, surrendering 137.5 rushing yards per game. This ranks 44th nationally, and is even less impressive when you consider their poor strength of schedule.
Additionally, Cincinnati is a G5 team that competes in the AAC. While this has been discussed ad nauseum, the fact remains that Cincinnati doesn’t recruit the horses to compete with an SEC team like Alabama football at the line of scrimmage.
The Bearcats have some very talented defensive linemen in Curtis Brooks and Myjai Sanders, but these are undersized players that are more adapted to play in the AAC. While their speed and pass rush abilities could cause issues, Alabama should be able to find success running straight at the Cincinnati front.
Cincinnati also runs a defensive scheme with a light box that is built to defend the pass. All of the aforementioned factors seem to indicate that the Tide could take a more ground-oriented approach to this game. Brian Robinson Jr., a 1,000 yard back, and Trey Sanders have had 3 weeks to get healthy and prepare for the playoff.
Look for Robinson Jr. to carry a heavy load and have a statement game against the Bearcats.