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It finally happened, a non Power Five school finally made the college football playoffs. The Cincinnati Bearcats bear the weight of the “little guys” on their shoulders. What do they get for their accomplishment? Coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide along with their storied history. The good news is they actually have to play the game. The Bearcats are coming to win.
On offense, the Crimson Tide wants to get the running game off early with Brian Robinson Jr.. This will open up Alabama’s full playbook, which includes deep shots down the field to Jameson Williams. Even with wide receiver John Metchie III out, Heisman winning quarterback Bryce Young has enough weapons to keep Cincinnati’s defense on alert all game long.
Alabama’s defense will need to keep containment while rushing Bearcat quarterback Desmond Ridder, who could hurt them with his mobility. They also want to stymie their rushing attack, so they can put them in predictable passing downs. That means unleashing sack specialist Will Anderson Jr. and hard hitting Christian Harris. They must limit mental breakdowns in the secondary, especially with starting cornerback Josh Jobe out.
The x-factor for this game will be wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks. Brooks is a super talented freshman and next in line of exceptional Crimson Tide pass catchers. With so much attention focused on Jameson Williams, Brooks will have opportunities to do some damage.
The Bearcats’ game plan on offense is to get the running game going with Jerome Ford (the Alabama transfer will have extra incentive). This will make their offense balanced and much less predictable. Play action will be critical and give them opportunities for chunk plays by wide receiver Alec Pierce. Quarterback Desmond Ridder must protect the ball above all else.
On defense, Cincinnati will need standout Mylai Sanders and the defensive line to generate constant pressure on Bryce Young without blitzing. This will be an early indicator of how this game will ultimately turn out. Outstanding cornerbacks Ahmad Gardener and Coby Bryant will be left on an island on the outside and must hold up. Forcing some turnovers would greatly help their chances.
The x-factor are the linebackers Darrian Cook, Joel Dublanko and Ty Von Fossen. They not only must fill in the gaps and lanes to help against the run but also be sure tacklers in open space. The defensive line will have their hands full – covering sideline to sideline will be pivotal.