Brian Robinson Jr. rushes for 204 yards, Bryce Young throws three TD passes and the Crimson Tide defense dominates in a 27-6 Cotton Bowl win
ARLINGTON, Texas — Brian Robinson Jr. ran for a career-high 204 yards and top-ranked Alabama rolled into yet another national championship game by overwhelming the first non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff.
Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young threw three touchdown passes while mostly avoiding Cincinnati’s standout cornerbacks and the Crimson Tide beat the Bearcats, 27-6, in a CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl on Friday. It was the sixth semifinal victory in a row for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama (13-1) has missed the four-team playoff only once and will try to win its second national title in a row and fourth in the eight seasons of the CFP format with Coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide will face either No. 2 Michigan (12-1) or No. 3 Georgia (12-1), the previously undefeated team Alabama beat for the SEC title, in the national title game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
Alabama clearly was doing what it could to minimize the impact of cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, and pretty much succeeded with Robinson pounding on the ground and Young throwing a lot of short, safe passes – though he find Ja’Core Brooks for a 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a play away from the standout defenders for a 17-3 lead just before halftime.
The Crimson Tide opened the game with 10 consecutive runs before putting three receivers opposite of Gardner, who hasn’t given up a touchdown in coverage in his college career. Young found Slade Bolden open in the left flat for an 8-yard touchdown pass that put Alabama ahead to stay.
With their own dynamic quarterback in Desmond Ridder, the NFL prospect who returned for an extra season for just this chance, the Bearcats (13-1) were the nation’s only undefeated team until facing the playoff standard-bearer.
Coach Luke Fickell and Cincinnati broke through as the first non-P5 to make the four-team playoff, bolstered by a win on the first Saturday of October at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, who lost to Alabama, 31-14, in a CFP semifinal Rose Bowl played at AT&T Stadium last New Year’s Day, didn’t lose another game this season and finished fifth in the final CFP rankings behind the history-making Bearcats.
Ridder was sacked six times and outside of a 9-yard run on the opening play of the second half never hurt Alabama with his feet. He was 17-of-32 passing for 144 yards.
Young, a 20-year-old sophomore who starred at Mater Dei High, has a chance to become the fifth Alabama quarterback in 13 seasons to win a national title as a first-year starter. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 181 yards in the playoff game, four weeks after setting an SEC championship game record with 421 yards passing in a victory over Georgia and three weeks after being the first Crimson Tide QB to win a Heisman Trophy.
His only interception came late in the third quarter when he overthrew All-America receiver Jameson Williams in a crowd of defenders and was intercepted by Bryan Cook on the logo at midfield.
Williams was targeted eight times and had seven catches for 62 yards, the longest for 20 yards.
After Cook’s interception, the Bearcats went three-and-out for the fifth time in the game, with Ridder sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down.
Cincinnati: It was only the second loss in two seasons for the Bearcats, both setbacks coming in their final games. They lost to Georgia, 24-21, on a last-second field goal in the Peach Bowl last New Year’s Day. … Cincinnati drove for field goals by Cole Smith (37 and 31 yards) on the opening drive of each half, but struggled to move the ball outside of those two drives.
Alabama: After the Tide never got on track with their running game most of the season, fifth-year senior Robinson and the rushers led them in the semifinal game with 301 yards. Trey Sanders had 14 carries for 67 yards. Going into the Cotton Bowl, the Crimson Tide were averaging 147.6 yards per game, their lowest title in 15 seasons under Saban.
CINCINNATI DB HONORS KOBE BRYANT
Cincinnati’s Bryant, the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s best defensive back, changed his number for Friday’s game.
Yes, Bryant is named after the late NBA great, even with the different spelling of the first name.
For the playoff game, Bryant switched from the No. 7 he had worn throughout his Cincinnati career to No. 8, one of the two numbers the basketball Hall of Fame player wore during his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
“My parents loved Kobe Bryant and my brother does too,” the Bearcats cornerback said. “So I was named for Kobe Bryant. It’s just spelled differently”
Bryant said during the week that he wanted to go “vintage Kobe” and bring that playoff mentality of the five-time NBA champion.
More to come on this story.