Alabama football tames the Bearcats, earns National Championship bid

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

No one ever really wants Bama. 

In front of 76,313 fans in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Alabama football team defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats, 27-6, Friday afternoon in decisive fashion. This will be the Crimson Tide’s ninth national championship appearance under head coach Nick Saban. 

Handling the pressure and the challenge

The excitement during the week before the game was palpable. Cincinnati fans fled to local stores to stock up on gear. Alabama had yet another chance to defend their title. It was the first time a Group of Five school had made the College Football Playoffs. 

All eyes turned to AT&T stadium when both teams rushed to the field before the opening kickoff. 

I know our guys are excited,” Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell said. “I know our guys have been preparing and thinking about this for quite a while and are really, really excited about this challenge.”

Cincinnati quickly found out just how daunting of a challenge it is to beat Alabama. 

The Bearcats elected to defer to the second half after winning the opening coin toss. Cincinnati put the utmost faith in their defense to stop Alabama early on. 

This would’ve worked if the Bearcats didn’t have the 44th ranked rushing defense in the NCAA. 

Alabama took full advantage of this and ran the ball 10 times on their opening possession. Quarterback Bryce Young, wide receiver Jameson Williams and running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders combined for 106 rushing yards on that first drive. An eight-yard touchdown pass from Young to wide receiver Slade Bolden capped the 11 play drive. 

College football fans know what typically happens when the Crimson Tide draws first blood. 

Cincinnati had the tall task of responding to that drive. Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder led his offense down the field, attacking the sometimes vulnerable rushing defense of Alabama. Cincinnati made it down to the Crimson Tide’s nine-yard line before a timeout was called. 

The timeout helped out Alabama, as Ridder threw three straight incompletions in the red zone. The Bearcats settled for a 33-yard field goal. When playing the game, field goals aren’t going to win you the game often. 

Cincinnati had three straight three-and-outs after that opening drive. The Bearcats soon found themselves down 17-3 with just under 90 seconds left in the first half. Cincinnati looked to get down the field on their last possession of the first half. 

The Alabama defense had other ideas. 

Cincinnati earned one first down on that drive — a nine-yard rush by Ridder to Alabama’s 47-yard line. That’s where the Bearcats would stop. Two sacks on back-to-back plays by linebacker Dallas Turner and Will Anderson ended the first half. 

“It’s getting to the point that I don’t have to tell Dallas anything,” Anderson said. 

In the 30 minutes of play, Cincinnati only had 76 total yards of offense. The Bearcats went two-for-seven on third down and gave up 172 rushing yards. Robinson rushed for 127 yards alone. 

“I literally put all my heart into this,” Robinson said after the game. “This university, that team in that locker room, I don’t want to let my brothers down.” 

A half of unfortunate events 

The second half started off as a slugfest, with each team fighting for momentum.

Desperate for points, the Bearcats used Ridder’s running ability to their advantage. A designed quarterback run from Ridder softened up Alabama’s coverage. In four plays, the Bearcats marched down to Alabama’s 36-yard line. 

Cincinnati wouldn’t stop there. 

The Bearcats made it to just inside the red zone — Alabama’s 19-yard line — and was once again within striking distance of a touchdown. Alabama held Cincinnati’s offense to another field goal. Momentum was slowly swinging in Cincinnati’s favor. 

Alabama was held to 21 yards on their next offensive drive and punted for just the second time. Two drives later, Young threw his only interception of the game. There was life once again on the Cincinnati sideline.

That quickly disappeared, as the Bearcats couldn’t take advantage of the turnover. On the first play of the drive, an illegal shift penalty is called on Cincinnati. On the next play, defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis tacked running back Jerome Ford for a loss of one yard. Mathis also batted down a pass. 

To cap off this drive, Anderson and linebacker WIll Anderson combined for a 10-yard sack. 

A moment of bliss for Cincinnati quickly turned to a series of unfortunate events. Whatever momentum the Bearcats did have was given right back to the Crimson Tide.

Alabama rode that wave for the rest of the game. 

Similar to the first half of the game, Cincinnati couldn’t get any offensive rhythm outside of that first drive. The Crimson Tide outscored the Bearcats 10-0 in the final 15 minutes of the game. 

Behind an empathic 204-yard performance by Robinson, Alabama booked their ticket to their second straight national championship. 

The 10th-ranked scoring offense in the NCAA was held to just six points and out of the end zone. 

“That’s one of the biggest goals as a defense, holding people to a certain amount of points,” Anderson said. 

After yet another empathic performance, Saban was asked about how this game tells the story of the Crimson Tide’s season. 

“I think this game is probably a little bit of what the season has been all about,” Saban said. “You’ve had some really good players that are missing, [which] created opportunities for other players who have stepped up.” 

Alabama will need to step up to the task one more time. The Crimson Tide will defend their national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana in the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship game. Kickoff is set for 7pm CT and will be broadcast on ESPN.