Alabama football is gearing up to play in yet another national championship game, this one against a familiar foe in SEC rival Georgia. The two met just a month ago in the conference title game, a lopsided contest in favor of the Tide.
The only aspect of that game in Atlanta that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Alabama football fans was the season-ending injury to receiver John Metchie.
Metchie wasn’t missed a ton in Alabama’s Cotton Bowl win over Cincinnati. The Tide kept the ball on the ground for much of the game, with Bryce Young throwing for only 181 yards. When Alabama did pass, it didn’t always look smooth, but Bama did get the necessary production from its receivers to hold the Bearcats at bay.
Jameson Williams was unable to make any explosive plays, but recorded a team high seven catches for 62 yards.
Alabama Football: Bolden and Brooks finding rhythm
Slot receiver Slade Bolden and true freshman Ja’Corey Brooks were both receivers that the fan base and coaching staff alike expected to step up in Metchie’s absence. Bolden and Brooks each caught touchdown passes in the Cotton Bowl, with Brooks’ score coming on a 44-yard strike from Bryce Young. It was the only time Young really tried to go vertical in the game, and the connection was a welcome sight for the fan base.
Tight ends Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley each caught a pass, with Latu recording his seventh touchdown catch of the season.
Alabama Football: Other potential contributors
We didn’t see much of Traeshon Holden, Javon Baker, or Jojo Earle in the playoff game. One or more of these guys may need to elevate their play against a Georgia defense that won’t be quite as easy to run the ball on. Earle has seen plenty of time as a slot receiver and punt returner, and Holden is a physical specimen (similar to Brooks) that has made some big plays this season.
Even if we continue to only see the trio of receivers that started in the Cotton Bowl, I think Alabama will be just fine. Jameson Williams is an alpha who has proven he can thrive in various roles. He is the emotional leader of the offense, and the threat of his speed puts constant stress on a secondary. Bill O’Brien has done a pretty good job of using that speed to stretch defenses both vertically and sideline-to-sideline. As a result, Williams can create yards for the Alabama offense even when he doesn’t get the ball.
Slade Bolden is a possession guy who has gradually improved over the course of the season. He is an effective route runner with fairly consistent hands, and Bryce Young has utilized him often as a check-down guy. Bolden caught a touchdown in overtime of an eventual Iron Bowl victory, and another to open the scoring against Cincinnati. His increase in confidence over the latter portion of the season is plainly evident, and for good reason. Slade Bolden is playing the best ball of his Alabama football career.
Ja’Corey Brooks is the newest weapon in the Alabama passing game. It took him a while to break into the rotation, as he was behind Traeshon Holden earlier in the season. Brooks has arrived on the scene, however, becoming a household name almost overnight after his clutch touchdown catch against Auburn. He only has 9 catches on the season, but he is clearly a big-time playmaker. Like Bolden, his confidence is at an all-time high. Look for him to make some big grabs in the national championship game.
Williams, Bolden, and Brooks had almost four weeks to get first-team reps together in practice, and now they have a game under their belt. After another week of practice, the trio should look more fluid, especially playing against a secondary that lacks the star power of Cincinnati’s unit.
When you factor in the contributions of the running backs and tight ends in the passing game, I expect Bryce Young and the air attack to be featured much more prominently this week.