Cotton Bowl 2021: Examining Key Stats, Matchups for Cincinnati vs. Alabama

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 29, 2021

Cotton Bowl 2021: Examining Key Stats, Matchups for Cincinnati vs. Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Alabama is the clear favorite heading into this year's Cotton Bowl, and for good reason. The Crimson Tide have been dominant during the Nick Saban era, they have the Heisman Trophy winner leading their offense (sophomore quarterback Bryce Young) and they're the defending national champions.

    As the No. 1 seed in the CFP, Alabama is expected to get back to the CFP National Championship Game. However, Cincinnati is looking to prevent that from happening. And in sports, there's always the potential for an underdog to pull off an upset.

    The Crimson Tide and the Bearcats are set to face off in Friday's Cotton Bowl, with the winner advancing to face either Michigan or Georgia for the national title on Jan. 10. While Alabama has reached the Playoff seven times in eight years since the system was implemented, Cincinnati is making its CFP debut and is the first Group of Five team to reach it.

    Here's a look at some key stats and matchups to watch heading into the Cotton Bowl.

Key Stats

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press


    • Fourth in the country in points per game (42.5)
    • Sixth in the country in total yards per game (495.5)
    • Sixth in the country in passing yards per game (347.9)
    • Second in the country in third-down conversion percentage (53.6)
    • Eighth in the country in total yards allowed per game (306.1)
    • Fourth in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (82.8)
    • QB Bryce Young: 4,322 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns, four interceptions



    • Ninth in the country in points per game (38.8)
    • Tied for fourth in the country in points allowed per game (16.08)
    • Second in the country in passing yards allowed per game (168.3)
    • Third in the country in interceptions (18)
    • Tied for third in the country in forced turnovers (29)
    • Tied for sixth in the country in turnover margin (plus-11)
    • QB Desmond Ridder: 3,190 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, eight interceptions

Jameson Williams vs. Cincinnati's Secondary

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Alabama lost one of its top wide receivers in the SEC Championship Game when junior John Metchie III suffered a left ACL tear that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. Now, junior Jameson Williams will be the Crimson Tide's clear top WR for the Cotton Bowl, and they could be counting on him to have a big game to help power their offense.

    Williams is having an impressive debut season at Alabama after transferring from Ohio State, where he spent his first two years of college. In 13 games for the Crimson Tide, he has 68 receptions for 1,445 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's had more than 100 yards seven times, including in the SEC Championship Game when he had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

    That performance proved that Williams could excel against a top-tier defense, as Georgia's unit had been the most dominant in the country all season. Now, Williams will face another test going up against Cincinnati, which has had one of the best pass defenses in the country this year.

    It's likely that Williams will be covered by either junior cornerback Ahmad Gardner or graduate cornerback Coby Bryant. Both are difficult matchups, as Gardner was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and Bryant won the Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back.

    "I see a lot of technique. Those guys have two different styles," Williams said, per Kirk McNair of "They like to press, press big. I see a lot of things. Very talented DBs."

    Williams is a tough wide receiver to cover, even for cornerbacks as talented as Gardner and Bryant. So it's possible Williams will have another big showing, considering he's one of the top playmakers that the Bearcats have faced this year.

    But if Cincinnati is successful in limiting Williams' production, then Alabama may have to rely on some younger, less experienced receivers to fill the void created by Metchie's absence. That won't be the case, though, if Williams can win his matchup against Gardner and/or Bryant.

Desmond Ridder vs. Alabama's Pass Defense

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Although Alabama is strong in a lot of areas, one area in which it has been beatable this season is its pass defense. The Crimson Tide are allowing 223.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 63rd in the country.

    So it's possible that Cincinnati is going to rely on its aerial attack to power its offense, something that has been successful for the Bearcats at times this season. Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder is an exciting player who has the potential to put up big numbers if Cincinnati's offense gets rolling.

    Ridder has thrown multiple touchdown passes in each of the Bearcats' past seven games. He had three TD passes in their AAC Championship Game victory over Houston, and he threw for more than 300 yards in two of their final three regular-season games, the first times he exceeded that mark.

    If Cincinnati is going to pull off an upset against Alabama, it will likely need a strong showing from Ridder. Otherwise, it may struggle to get much offense going, especially because the Crimson Tide rank fourth in the country in run defense.

    But the Bearcats are confident that Ridder will rise to the occasion once again.

    "He's in his comfort zone in a leadership role. And not done anything to venture outside of that," Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said, per Joey Blackwell of Sports Illustrated. "He's just been himself which is plenty good enough to lead this football team."

    Alabama's secondary may need to find a way to contain Ridder's production, otherwise the Bearcats could be capable of pulling off an upset and surprising those who expect the Crimson Tide to roll to victory.