Stifling defense and power running was pretty much all it took for Alabama Football to dispense with Cincinnati. The Bearcats had enough, almost good enough players, to keep the first-half score from being an embarrassment. The 17-3 halftime score gave no indication Cincinnati could win the game. The first half did show the Bearcats had plenty of grit. It also showed the Crimson Tide defense needed little help. A methodical offensive game plan was sufficient.
As Nick Saban reminded after the game, the foundational rule of offensive football is to take what the defense gives you. The Bearcats chose to concentrate on limiting the Tide’s explosive offensive plays. What they gave up in the process, was enough bodies in the box to slow the Tide’s rushing attack.
The first half stats were more illustrative than the score. The Alabama Football offense had the ball for more than 18, first-half minutes. In offensive output comparison, the Tide crunched out 302 first-half yards to 76 yards for the Bearcats. The Bearcats did not quit, but even before halftime, they were done nonetheless.
The second half was the still-focused Crimson Tide, finishing the job. Though the Crimson Tide offense produced 482 yards, almost no explosive plays were needed. Instead, Brian Robinson Jr. and his blockers bludgeoned the Cincinnati defense. Robinson rushed for 204 yards, with an average per-carry of 7.8 yards. The Tide’s battering ram came close to matching the total offensive output of the Cincinnati team at 218 yards.
When the Bearcats had the ball, the Crimson Tide defense was even more dominant. The Bearcats’ first drive was 60 yards, ending in a field goal. Alabama Football DC, Pete Golding made adjustments. In four more first-half possessions, the Crimson Tide defense gave up a total of 16 yards.
For the game, the Crimson Tide defense, had eight tackles for a loss, including six sacks; six pass breakups and two quarterback hurries. Cincinnati QB, Desmond Ridder had completed 65.9 percent of his passes on the season. Against the Alabama defense, he was 17-for-32, for 53.1 percent.
The Crimson Tide offense was not sharp in every facet of its game. At least part of the credit should go to the Cincinnati defensive game plan and the efforts of the Bearcats’ players. Bryce Young missed on a handful of throws and heaved up a rare interception. Young had difficulty finding a rhythm. The Bearcats made only two sacks but had six quarterback hurries. An in-game injury to Emil Ekiyor might have been part of the problem. At right tackle, as in some earlier games, Chris Owens had pass protection issues. Owens, too, was banged up late and exited the game.
It was the kind of game Nick Saban has always loved. As he said after the game, talking about physical play.
"that’s always a goal for us, to play with more effort, more intensity, be more physical, play with more toughness than the other team."
There was no way the Cincinnati Bearcats understood before the game the perspective defined by Nick Saban. After a Friday afternoon awakening in Dallas, perhaps they now do.
The national spin will be the Tide’s Cotton Bowl win was a return to joyless, murderball. There was joy enough for Crimson Tide fans, who are disinclined to care what any other group thinks.