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No. 1 Alabama will be without its No. 1 go-to wide receiver, junior John Metchie III, against No. 4 Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31.
And Cincinnati (13-0) is only No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency defense with 18 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns allowed while it is No. 2 in fewest passing yards given up at 168 a game.
But the Crimson Tide (12-1) knows the drill.
Metchie, who leads the Tide with 96 catches on the season and has 1,142 receiving yards with eight touchdowns, will not play in Arlington, Texas or in the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, should Alabama advance. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after cutting on it late in the second quarter of Alabama’s 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game Saturday in Atlanta and is out for the season.
“It creates a lot of opportunity for a lot of other players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get them to step up. We hate to see any player get injured.”
Metchie caught six passes for 97 yards in the first half against Georgia, including Alabama’s go-ahead touchdown from 13 yards out for a 14-10 lead with 9:46 to go before halftime.
Junior transfer wide receiver Jameson Williams helped soften the loss of Metchie as he caught three passes for 72 yards in the second half with a 55-yard touchdown for a 31-17 lead early in the third quarter. For the game, he caught seven passes for a game-high 184 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter to cut Georgia’s lead to 10-7.
In Metchie’s absence, quarterback Bryce Young found lesser-used wide receivers Slade Bolden, Traeshon Holden and Ja’Corey Brooks. Bolden, a junior, caught three passes for 33 yards; Holden, a sophomore, caught two for 21 yards; and Brooks, a freshman, had one catch for nine yards after Metchie left.
“Well, as much as I hated and we all hated Metchie getting hurt like that, we always preach next man up,” said Bolden, who caught five passes in all for 54 yards and has 32 catches on the season for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
“We love him. He’s our brother,” Bolden said. “But you just never know what circumstances can happen and what adversity can strike, and that’s what happened.”
Alabama knows this drill.
In its previous game against Auburn, it had to do without WIlliams from midway in the second quarter on as he was ejected for targeting on punt coverage and missed all of the second half. Williams has been among the nation’s leaders all season in receiving yards and is now No. 5 with 1,445 on 68 receptions and leads the Tide with 15 touchdowns.
The Tide was trailing Auburn 10-0 at the time of Williams’ penalty. After Williams left the game, Metchie caught 12 passes for 133 yards, including Alabama’s last pair of two-point conversions for the 24-22 win in four overtimes. Brooks caught two passes for 49 yards after Williams left, including a 28-yard touchdown from Young to tie the game 10-10 with 24 seconds to go in regulation. And Bolden caught a six-yard touchdown in overtime for a 17-10 lead.
Holden has 15 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown on the season. Brooks has five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
In addition to Williams, Bolden, Brooks and Holden will have to help replace Metchie.
“For those guys to step up in a moment like we did, it was definitely big for us,” Young said.
Alabama could also get back freshman wide receiver/punt returner JoJo Earle, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury. He has 12 catches on the season for 148 yards and has returned 14 punts for 95 yards.
“We have some young guys who are going to get opportunities now,” Saban said. “Ja’Corey Brooks did it last week and this week. And I think Slade played really well. But I also think a lot of that comes from Bryce having trust and confidence in those guys because a good quarterback can make receivers look good. And those guys have to run good routes and do things the right way to get open.”