Videos by OutKick
Somewhere, No. 1 Alabama is going to have to find 7.3 catches among its receivers during the Cotton Bowl national semifinal against No. 4 Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve.
The Tide (12-1) will be playing the Bearcats (13-0) at 3:30 p.m. eastern time in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 31 without top wide receiver John Metchie III, a junior who caught 96 passes in 13 games before his season ended with a knee injury in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4.
Alabama has junior Jameson Williams, who leads the Tide in receiving yardage with 1,445 and in touchdowns with 15 on 68 catches, and junior Slade Bolden, who has 32 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
But they will need alternate options against one of the best pass defenses in the nation. Cincinnati has allowed the second fewest passing yards on the season at 168 and is first in pass defense efficiency with 18 interceptions, 10 touchdowns allowed and just 16 yards a completion.
The receiver candidates are sophomore Traeshon Holden (15 catches, 211 yards, 1 TD), sophomore Javon Baker (7 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD), freshman Ja’Corey Brooks (5 catches, 79 yards, 1 TD) and freshman Agiye Hall (2 catches, 20 yards).
There is also freshman JoJo Earle, who has 12 catches for 148 yards, if he can return from a knee injury suffered against New Mexico State on Nov. 13. He has missed the Tide’s last three games and has been limited at practice. Brooks was the No. 4 wide receiver in the nation and Earle was at No. 5 in Alabama’s 2021 signing class.
Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. sounded confident one or two new faces would rise to the occasion.
“I think that’s what Alabama is built on,” he said Tuesday.
“They’re doing the best they can to try to be able to help the team every way that they can,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. “Javon Baker and Traeshon Holden have done a good job. Agiye Hall is making some good plays. Ja’Corey has been playing well for us. He’s also a guy who continues to improve.”
Brooks has also shined in the moment, catching a 28-yard touchdown to tie Auburn, 10-10, with 24 seconds to go in regulation of the 24-22 win in four overtimes on Nov. 27.
“He’s had some experience playing in some big moments and big games,” Young said Tuesday. “Think he’s being more and more comfortable on the field, and it shows.”
Hall could potentially stretch the field.
“Agiye has run some good deep routes,” Young said. “He’s getting a little more comfortable with those routes. They take a little more timing. We’re going to need guys to step up, and you can tell they’ve been taking it to heart at practice.”
Alabama’s new and old receivers will be tested by All-American cornerbacks Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant with a good mix of man-to-man and zone defenses by Cincinnati. Gardner is expected to be a lower first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
“They play a lot of man, but they change it up quite a bit,” Saban said. “They play very well together as a team. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They’re aggressive. They’re smart. They’ve got a lot of experience even when they change it up and play zone. They’re all ball hawkers back there. They really attack the ball.”
CONSIDER TY SIMPSON WARNED
New Alabama signee Ty Simpson, who is the No. 3 pro style quarterback prospect in the nation from Westview High in Martin, Tennessee, is practicing with the team during Cotton Bowl preparations, though he will not be eligible to play.
Before any practices, he said in an interview that he planned on telling Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. to take it easy on him as he gets acclimated to the Tide’s offense with the scout team. Anderson does lead the nation in sacks with 15.
But before Simpson could deliver his message, Anderson heard the news and rushed in.
“Before he could even come to me, I went up to him and told him, ‘You don’t have to worry about me hitting you right now, but just know in the spring time, you’re going to see me all the time. I’m going to always be in your face,'” Anderson said.