BamaInsider - Robinson leads Alabama past Cincinnati, into national championship game
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Robinson leads Alabama past Cincinnati, into national championship game

ARLINGTON, Texas — It’s been a long time coming for Brian Robinson Jr. After waiting his turn for four years in Alabama's loaded backfield, the Tuscaloosa native took advantage of the NCAA's blanket eligibility waiver this season to return for one final title run with his hometown Crimson Tide.

That decision was made for a moment like this.

Robinson rushed for a career-high 204 yards to help lead No. 1 Alabama to a 27-6 victory over No. 4 Cincinnati in Friday’s Cotton Bowl semifinal. Alabama will advance to play in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis against the winner of the Orange Bowl matchup between No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia later Friday.

"As a young kid, I just always wanted to be a part of this program," said Robinson, who starred at Hillcrest High School, eight miles away from Alabama's campus. "I always wanted to play for a national championship. Just being able to go out there and lead this team in this big game on this big stage, to have the opportunity to play for a national championship, as a young kid, that's all I ever wanted to do. It's a dream come true."

For the majority of the season, the Crimson Tide has leaned on quarterback Bryce Young to carry its offense. However, a stingy Bearcats secondary limited the Heisman Trophy winner to a season-low 181 yards through the air.

Fortunately for Alabama (13-1), Cincinnati (13-1) couldn’t find the same answer for Robinson, who was named offensive player of the game. The bruising back ripped off 134 yards before halftime as Young got off to an uncharacteristically slow start. After Young began to find his rhythm later in the game, Robinson continued to gash the Bearcats defensive front, allowing the Tide to grind away for the win.

Young finished the day 17 of 28 for 181 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. While not up to his typical standards, the performance helped the sophomore set school single-season records in passing yards (4,503), passing touchdowns (46) and total touchdowns (49).

While Robinson and Young carried Alabama’s offense, the Tide’s defense snuffed out any chance of upset on the other side of the ball. Alabama limited Cincinnati to 218 total yards. The Bearcats also posted their lowest scoring total since a 42-0 loss to Ohio State in 2019.

Cincinnati is the first Group of Five team to make an appearance in the College Football Playoff since it was established in 2014. For most of the day, the Bearcats looked out of place.

Alabama sacked Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder six times while batting down several of his passes at the line of scrimmage. Ridder, who came in eighth in this season’s Heisman voting, finished the day 17 of 32 for 144 yards. Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, an Alabama transfer, recorded 77 yards on 15 carries but saw his attempts limited in the second half as the Bearcats growing deficit prevented them from running the ball.

Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. earned defensive player of the game honors, recording six tackles, including two sacks. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner now has 17.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for a loss this season. Alabama defensive back Brian Branch led the team with eight stops and two pass deflections while also recording half a sack.

"I think we made a big statement," Anderson said. "As the season went on, we've been starting to get better on defense, cutting down mental errors and stuff like that. Coming into our final game, I think it's really critical now that we pay attention to little details and making sure we're all on the same page to keep cutting down on those mental errors, keep flying around, having fun and playing together as a unit."

Friday’s win didn’t come without a cost for Alabama as it saw starting right guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. leave the game with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. The redshirt junior was replaced by five-star freshman JC Latham.

"We think he's got a chance to be able to come back and play in the [national championship] game, but it's probably too early to know," Saban said following the game. "It depends on how he responds."

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) runs through the Cincinnati Bearcats line during the second quarter during the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Photo | USA TODAY
Alabama Crimson Tide running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) runs through the Cincinnati Bearcats line during the second quarter during the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Photo | USA TODAY