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Many prefer the underdog role. Alabama football coach Nick Saban sure does.
And that all worked well when the touchdown underdog, defending national champion, third-ranked Crimson Tide beat No. 1 Georgia 41-24 on Dec. 4 as if Alabama was the favorite.
But now No. 1 Alabama (12-1) is a 14-point favorite over No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 31 (ESPN, 2:30 p.m. central time).
“We have to have that same approach as when we were the underdog – the energy we came with when we were doubted,” senior tailback Brian Robinson Jr. said on a teleconference on Wednesday. “We brought a certain kind of energy, making people respect our team. We’ve got to continue to show that same enthusiasm.”
Robinson shook off a hamstring injury to gain 55 yards on 16 carries and catch two passes for 16 yards against Georgia.
“Whether we’re the underdog or not, we’ve got to continue to show that same enthusiasm,” he said.
The point spread Georgia received was a motivating factor to Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who made six tackles, two of them for losses, and a quarterback hurry.
“I just wanted some respect put on our name and remember that we are Alabama,” he said.
“I knew we had the right mindset going into the game,” Saban said after the game. “You (the media) were so pro Georgia that I think it helped to motivate them to want to try to prove something. You gave us a lot of really positive rat poison. The rat poison that you usually give us is usually fatal. But the rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy.”
No such delights this time around, so Saban will have to guard against his team being overconfident, especially considering how well his team played.
“In this last game, we seemed to play to the standard that we wanted to play to against a very good team,” he said. “Now, it’s going to be everybody’s choice whether we can maintain that and be consistent with that moving forward as we play in the Playoffs. And it doesn’t get any easier.”
The point spread would suggest it does get easier, but Saban brought up Cincinnati’s pass efficiency defense. The Bearcats lead the nation in that statistic with a 100.47 rating with 18 interceptions, a .535 completion percentage allowed, 168 yards allowed a game and 10 touchdowns given up on the season.
“I’m a secondary coach,” Saban said. “And if you’re pass efficiency defense is what theirs is, they’ve got to be pretty good.”
Alabama Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young is No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency at 175.5 with a .679 completion percentage, 43 touchdowns and 332 yards a game.
Alabama senior defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis said the preparation for Cincinnati will be less dramatic than for Georgia and more workmanlike because Alabama is favored as usual.
“It’s all about us in this facility,” he said. “Just grinding, so we don’t have to worry about the outside. We don’t let none of that get to us. Number one, it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve still got to work.”
ALABAMA ADDS ELIAS RICKS
In addition to signing the No. 1 class in the nation on Wednesday, according to Rivals.com, Alabama also just added sophomore transfer cornerback Elias Ricks from LSU. Ricks was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation in 2020 out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, in the Los Angeles area. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was teammates with Ricks at Mater Dei.
Ricks (6-foot-2, 195) struggled early in his freshman season at LSU in 2020 as he often appeared confused and out of position, but then most of the defense was under first-year coordinator Bo Pelini. He still ended up being named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, a third team All-American by the Associated Press and made the coaches’ All-SEC freshmen team. Ricks finished the season with four interceptions and 20 tackles.
He played in just six games in the 2021 season before aggravating a shoulder injury that he could have continued playing with and did not require surgery. But he opted out the rest of the season and entered the transfer portal as the Tigers got off to a 3-3 start, and coach Ed Orgeron was fired. LSU finished 6-6 after a 5-5 season last year. Ricks made 11 tackles in the 2021 season with one interception.
“This is just a personal thank you to Coach O (Orgeron), Coach (Corey) Raymond, and all of the LSU staff that helped me during my process at LSU,” Ricks tweeted on Wednesday. “I am grateful for the opportunity and will not forget all the things that were done for me in my time there.”
Ricks said he spoke to Saban on Wednesday morning.
“I can’t wait to be coached by him,” Ricks said, “compete for a national championship and stay in the SEC and test myself against the best of the best.”