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Alabama players sound off on going up against former teammate, Jerome Ford

Two seasons ago Brian Robinson Jr. shared a supporting role with Jerome Ford behind Najee Harris in Alabama’s loaded backfield. In roughly two weeks, Robinson and Ford will be facing off as opposing starters as No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl.

The two backs have taken different roads to this year’s matchup in the College Football Playoff.

Robinson continued to wait his turn behind Harris during the starter’s Doak Walker Award-winning season last year. When Harris went pro, Robinson elected to take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket eligibility rule due to COVID-19 and return for a fifth season. Ford, who was lower on Alabama’s depth chart at the time, decided to split ways with the Crimson Tide, transferring to Cincinnati in January of 2020.

It’s worked out pretty nicely for both backs.

In his first season as Alabama’s starter, Robinson leads the Tide with 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground while adding 268 yards and a pair of scores through the air. Ford, who is also in his first season as a starter, has been even more productive for Cincinnati. The junior has rushed for 1,263 yards and is tied for sixth in the nation with 19 touchdowns on the ground. He also has 18 receptions for 209 yards and a touchdown through the air.

“I’m super excited for him,” Robinson said. “You know, he came here, it might not have turned out how he wanted it to turn out for him. He had to make a decision for himself and his family. He left, and he joined a program that was upcoming and helped build to that program and helped lead them to where they are now. I’m just so proud of him, just the progress he made joining another program, making it to this point.”

Ford came to Alabama as a three-star recruit in the 2018 class. While he carried the ball just 31 times for 151 yards during his two seasons in Tuscaloosa, his former teammates are aware of the challenge he will present at the end of the month.

“Jerome, he’s one of those guys who works his butt off,” Robinson said. “Fast guy, physical guys, knows how to finish plays well. So it’s exciting to be able to play against Jerome on the other side of the ball on one of these biggest stages. I’m excited to see how he handles that.”

Of course, Robinson won’t be the one charged with stopping the 5-foot-11, 220-pound bowling ball. That will come down to an Alabama defense that ranks No. 4 in the nation against the run, allowing opponents 82.77 yards per game this season.

“I always liked Jerome and he always ran hard, he ran that ball pretty good,” Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said. “He still do. I know we gonna have to stop the run when it comes down to him running that ball.”

Alabama (12-1) will take on Cincinnati (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31 at 2:30 p.m. CT inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The winner will advance to the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis against either No. 2 Michigan or No. 3 Georgia.

“This is one of the exact reasons why a came back,” Robinson said. “You know, to be able to play in big games like this and to be able to play for it all, just have that opportunity, that’s a lot of the reason why I came back.”

Former Alabama running back Jerome Ford will face the Crimson Tide as the starting running back for Cincinnati during the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. Photo | USA TODAY
Former Alabama running back Jerome Ford will face the Crimson Tide as the starting running back for Cincinnati during the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. Photo | USA TODAY