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2021 CFB Playoff Semi-Final: Alabama vs Cincinnati Situational Scouting and Matchup Analysis

The Matchup: Alabama Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

Alabama Offense


The Alabama offense is explosive, led by Sophomore QB and Heisman Trophy Winner Bryce Young; they are 5th nationally in plays of 20+ yards (84) and average 42.5 points per game. Alabama took a step back in the run game in 2021, amassing 1919 yards (75th). They rank 6th nationally in passing offense with 4523 yards, 44 TD's, and 4INT's. Alabama averaged 495 yards of offense per game (6th).

Bryce Young Displaying his deep accuracy

Heisman Winner and Sophomore QB Bryce Young Is The Engine That Propels The Alabama Offense

The Alabama offense took a slight step back in 2021 after a record-breaking 2020. Sophomore QB Bryce Young took the reigns from the departed 2021 1st round NFL Draft pick Mac Jones, posting incredible numbers for a first-year starter. His 4300 passing yards, 44/4 TD/INT ratio, and 2nd highest NFL QB rate won him the Heisman Trophy. His performance in the SEC title game sealed the Heisman, Young went 26 of 44 for 421 yards and three scores. If Young were draft-eligible, many believe he would go number one overall in 2022.

The Alabama Run Game Powered By a Senior RB That Waited His Turn

Brian Robinson is a solid RB who possesses good size and plays with good vision and patience. He doesn't wow you in any particular area, but he is versatile. As a runner, Robinson picked up 1071 yards in 2021. Robinson then added another 268 yards as a receiver. He has a combined 16 TD's in 2021.

Alabama's WR Factory Continued In 2021 With Ohio State Transfer Jameson Williams Leading the Way

The Ohio State transfer arrived in Tuscaloosa perceived as the 4th best WR at Ohio State before transferring. In 2021, Williams became the best WR in college Football, snagging 68 catches for 1445 yards and 15 TD's. Jameson Williams is an instant impact player and the top WR on our NFL Draft Board. Williams provides a spark whenever the Crimson Tide offense needs a big-time play. He can attack a defense at all levels and is one of the best route runners in college football.

Jameson Williams with the stop and go double move displaying his explosive speed

The Alabama OL Has Been Inconsistent

You might have expected better with Bill O'Brien as the Alabama OC and Doug Marrone coaching the OL (LOL for Bill O'Brien). But, the Alabama OL has been inconsistent in 2021, yet put together their best game of the season against the best defensive front in college football (Georgia) in the SEC title game. The week prior, they surrendered seven sacks vs. Auburn in the Iron Bowl. In 2021, Bryce Young has faced the second-most total pressures in the country, and Young has been sacked 30+ times on the year.

Alabama OL Graded Average to Below Average In 2021

According to PFF, Alabama has received a below-average grade in pass blocking and an average grade in run blocking for 2021. They are among the worst in total-blown run blocks in college football. Still, they have Football Scout 365's top-rated OT prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft (Evan Neal) bolstering their OL.

Cincinnati Defense


The Bearcats defense allows 16 points a game (4th) and allows the 2nd fewest pass yards per game (168). Their run defense is a bit more susceptible, giving up 147 yards per game (44th) but a respectable 3.3 yards per rush attempt (11th). The Bearcats are 3rd in the nation in turnover margin, and they rank 12th in tackles for loss. They give up the nation's 5th fewest explosive plays. They rank 12th overall in yards allowed in 2021.

The Bearcats DL is Quick And Can Create Havoc; the LB's Play Fast

The Bearcats defensive line is led by Curtis Brooks, a 285 lb interior player who has picked up 7.5 sacks and 11.5 TFL's in 2021. Brooks is not the 300lb giants you see at Georgia or Alabama, but he brings a blue-collar attitude to the middle of the Bearcats defense.

The Bearcats also have an athletic edge defender (Myjai Sanders), a solid pass rusher who can set the edge. In addition, the second-level speed at LB has been a significant key to the Bearcats' success in 2021. None of the LB's stand out, but they do a good job in coverage and playing downhill vs. the run. LB's Joel Dublanko and Darrian Beavers lead the Bearcats in tackles.

Havoc creates turnovers, Sauce Gardner INT

The Bearcat Secondary Is Very Good Led By Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant

Most people will write off or overlook the Bearcats secondary because of "Bama" but they are an excellent group that plays at an elite level. Sauce Gardner is a long-armed corner at 6-2 188 who is getting a lot of NFL draft attention. The game against Alabama is a big game for Gardner's draft stock as he will likely shadow Alabama's Jameson Williams. On the other side is Coby Bryant. Bryant is a 6-1, 198lb corner who is also lengthy. He is the less heralded of the two, but he is also garnering a lot of attention from NFL scouts.

At safety, the Bearcats are led by Bryan Cook, a 6-1 210lb split safety, who can play in the box and get physical when needed.


The Matchup: Cincinnati Offense vs. Alabama Defense

Cincinnati Offense


The Bearcats average 39 points per game; they ranked 52nd in pass offense, 49th in rush offense, and 46th overall. They are a balanced offense that uses RPO and play-action.

Ridder shows his touch and deep accuracy

Desmond Ridder Is The Straw That Stirs The Drink

The Bearcats are led by their senior QB Desmond Ridder, a player considered by many to be a first-round NFL talent. Ridder has been a steady force the last few years in Cincinnati. In 2021, Ridder completed 66% of his throws for 3190 yards with a 30/8 TD/INT ratio. Ridder adds versatility as a runner where he amassed 361 yards and six more TD's.

Jerome Ford Wants You To Know He Is Not "The Alabama Transfer, He Is The Cincinnati RB"

The Bearcats lead back is a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide; he doesn't want you to talk about that, and he is vocal about it.

Ridder and Ford show why they are tough to defend in zone-read situations

Jerome Ford has had a great 2021 season picking up 1243 yards on the ground scoring 19 TD's, and adding another 209 yards and a score as a receiver. He averaged 6.22 yards per rush attempt in 2021. At 5-11 220 lbs, Ford is a bowling ball-style back who picked up 578 of his 1243 rush yards after contact.

The Bearcat OL Is Solid, But Face Their Toughest Test vs. Alabama

The Bearcats surrendered 92 pressures, ranking the 7th lowest nationally in 2021. And their 20 sacks allowed is 30th nationally. They have surrendered the 5th fewest TFL's (45).

Bearcat Receivers Led By Alec Pierce Are Solid, But Not Overly Dynamic

Led by Alec Pierce, the Bearcats are not dynamic on paper. But do not be fooled; they are a solid unit, and Pierce, who is 6-3 208 lbs, can be a matchup problem for opposing defenders. Pierce has good hands and excellent ball skills. He can gain separation as a good route runner and has good speed.

Bearcats TE Josh Whyle Provides A Matchup Problem For Alabama

At 6-6 235, Whyle is a hands catcher with good size that can body a defender. He posted 25 catches for 320 yards and six TD's in 2021.

Alabama Defense


Not one of the better versions of a Saban defense, the 2021 edition allows a respectable 20 points per game. They rank 8th in total defense and give up the 63rd most pass yards per game (223). They possess a stout run defense, ranking 4th, allowing 83 yards per game. They give up the 7th fewest plays of 20+ yards but give up a significant number of (chunk) 10-19 yard plays, ranking 32nd nationally.

The Bearcats will have an issue containing Edge Will Anderson

Will Anderson Is a Top Five NFL Draft Talent in 2023

If eligible in 2022, Anderson would have a case to be number one overall. His talent off the edge is undeniable. He ranked 3rd in total pressures with 13 sacks in 2021. Anderson is not just a pass rush asset; he can drop into coverage when needed.

Josh Jobe and Jordan Battle Bolster A Solid and Improving Alabama Secondary

The Physical 6-1, 210lb Jordan Battle plays physical. He is a versatile player that Alabama will line up deep, in the box, or the nickel. His 3 INT's lead the team. Josh Jobe has had a subpar 2021, but he is still a solid NFL draft prospect with a high ceiling. Jobe has 2 INT's on the year.

If Alabama Wins:

It will be because....They assert themselves early in the run game to take pressure off the offensive line in passing situations.

As noted earlier, the Bearcats run defense looks a little susceptible. If Alabama can play physically up front, they may be able to control the line of scrimmage against an undersized Bearcats defensive front. This season, Cincinnati has surrendered 121 first downs in the run game, ranking 72nd nationally. In addition, they have allowed nearly 1100 yards after contact (63rd).

With or Without A Run Game, The Bearcats Have Their Hands Full Vs. Bryce Young And Jameson Williams.

For the Bearcats defense, it will be a pick your poison scenario. I expect the Bearcats will play to keep everything in front, allowing the Crimson Tide to have a lot of access underneath.

If the Bearcats are getting gashed in the run game and decide they want to stop the run, they will have a hard time locking down the Alabama WR's. Jameson Williams leads the charge, and even without Metchie, the Tide can target several options outside of Williams, including one of the top TE prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft Jahleel Billingsley.

Sauce Gardner vs. Jameson Williams

The Bearcats play a man-heavy defensive scheme, but against Alabama, they may want to try to play a little more zone. Regardless, the matchup to watch will be Sauce Garner vs. Jameson Williams.

If Cincinnati Wins:

It will be because....The Alabama Offense Struggles and Bryce Young Faulters under Pressure

The Bearcats defense will need to do whatever is necessary to keep Alabama from hitting the explosive plays, which means they may have to play out of their comfort zone and line up in less man to man and more zone coverage. The one problem is that if the Bearcats want to exploit the inconsistent Alabama OL play, they will need to bring an extra defender from time to time which takes away from their coverage on the back end.

If Desmond Ridder And Jerome Ford Have Success In The Run Game, The Bearcats Have A Shot

The best defense is a good offense, and in Cincinnati's case, they may want to try to sustain drives and keep the ball away from Bryce Young. They can do this by running the football successfully. Ridder is a good athlete who can use his legs to add pressure to a defense. His ability to run can force Alabama to defend all eleven and open things up in the RPO and zone-read game.

Ridder will have to play a significant role as a runner to beat Alabama

Jerome Ford's role is also vital; he will have to play well between the tackles for Ridder to find success on the edge of the Alabama defense. Early down success in the run game will give Ridder more manageable late down passing opportunities to use his legs when Bama decides to play man.


Alabama Key 2022 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Alabama has nine players ranked on our current NFL Draft Big Board. They have 2nd most players ranked on our board.

OT Evan Neal (3rd on our board)

WR Jameson Williams (6th on our board)

DB Josh Jobe (27th on our board)

Cincinnati Key 2022 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

The Bearcats have three players currently ranked on our current NFL Draft Big Board.

CB Ahmad Gardner (43rd on our board)

QB Desmond Ridder (47th on our board)

DL Myjai Sanders (83rd on our board)


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