Mama, we made it! The CFP is here and the wait is over! This year’s final four teams have a mixture of familiar faces and two newcomers in this era as Alabama faces off with Cincinnati and Georgia takes on Michigan.
These games present interesting challenges for each team involved. Practices and pre-game preparations are finished. As talented as these programs are, each of them has a flaw and weakness to exploit.
Observing each team’s strengths and weaknesses, I compiled the keys to victory for all four participants.
Cincinnati Bearcats: Lock down and pressure
Luke Fickell has one of the best defenses in college football and multiple NFL draft prospects to watch out for this draft season: Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant, Myjai Sanders, Brian Cook, and Darrin Beavers. This will be the unit to keep them competitive against the greatest college football program of the past decade.
Alabama is without their star wideout John Metchie III, who tore his ACL in the second quarter of the SEC Championship Game. Jameson Williams is the lone star to garner defensive attention. Cincinnati’s secondary must limit Williams from those backbreaking explosive plays downfield. He is sure to see an abundance of Gardner in coverage with a sprinkle of Bryant depending on alignment. Forcing the 2021 Heisman winner, Bryce Young, to look away from Williams can turn this game in Cincinnati’s favor. The Tide’s offense averages 348 yards passing per game. The Bearcats allow far less with 168 yards per game.
Alabama’s receiving production was a two-man attack all season. Outside of Metchie III and Williams, no other receiving option amassed more than 400 yards receiving. The lack of experience and production could hinder this offense if Williams is taken out of the game plan.
Myjai Sanders and Darrin Beavers will be equally as important to contain Young in the pocket in addition to speeding up his clock and forcing quicker decisions. Beavers will blitz from the second level or align as a stand-up edge rusher to pressure the quarterback.
If Cincinnati can generate consistent pressure on Young and contain Williams, it will provide their own offense more opportunities to score.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Establish run early
To combat their talented secondary and pass rush, Nick Saban’s offense should establish the run early on—dish out a serving of physical SEC football. Brian Robinson Jr. is a physical between-the-tackles hammer. He runs with power and aggressiveness. Alabama needs to force Cincinnati’s front seven to match their level of energy and physicality, establishing a reliable rushing game to force some favorable coverages later in the game.
With the defense’s attention and spotlight on Williams, the play-action pass can open opportunities for Slade Bolden, both tight ends, and other young receiving options. The way Cincinnati’s defense is built, placing the world on the shoulders of Young solely is not the smartest decision to make.
Alabama’s offense must force the Bearcats’ defense out of their comfort zone and keep them honest.
Georgia Bulldogs: Stonewall running game
The Michigan offense has one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. They have the perfect blend of power and speed with Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. This thunder and lightning duo leads an offense that averages 224 rushing yards per game. That being said, the Bulldogs defense allows 82 rush yards per game.
This is a case of unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Jordan Davis and Co. on the defensive line will play a huge role in stonewalling this potent rushing attack in addition to their elite linebacking corps. Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, and Channing Tindall will attack the line of scrimmage with physicality in their run fits. Georgia’s No. 1 priority is to stop the run and put the ball in Cade McNamara’s hands to win the biggest game of his life.
Michigan Wolverines: Limit Brock Bowers
Georgia’s offense presents their own two-headed running back tandem with Zamir White and James Cook. Limiting their impact on this game will make this offense one-dimensional. Stetson Bennett IV has questions to answer this game to prove head coach Kirby Smart is making the right decision starting him over J.T. Daniels.
Bennett’s favorite receiving target is freshman tight end Brock Bowers. Bowers leads the team in receiving with 791 yards on 47 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He presents a physical and schematic challenge as he lines up in-line, out wide, and in the slot.
Georgia creates advantageous opportunities for Bowers to attack defensive coverages. I would expect to see Michigan’s star defensive back Daxton Hill man up against Bowers in key moments.
Containing the big play ability of Bowers will force Bennett to trust his receivers and test the boundaries—Georgia has only three receiving options with more than 400 yards receiving: Bowers, Ladd McConkey, and Jermaine Burton. Michigan has to force Bennett to play left-handed and uncomfortable. Factor in the magnitude of the game itself and the pressure from Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo and Bennett could be in for a long night in his pursuit to the national title.