Cotton Bowl: 5 plays that powered No. 1 Alabama's victory over No. 4 Cincinnati

Alabama is heading to another national championship game.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide are playing in their sixth title game in the eight seasons of the College Football Playoff after an easy 27-6 win over No. 4 Cincinnati in Friday's Cotton Bowl playoff semifinal. Here are the five plays that helped Alabama get another semifinal win. 

Henry To'o To'o's pass breakup

Score: Alabama 7, Cincinnati 0, 5:48 1Q

After Alabama bulldozed its way to an opening-drive TD, Cincinnati worked its way to the Alabama 9 on its opening possession. The Bearcats’ defensive line got worked by the Crimson Tide on the first possession; a TD for Cincinnati would have been the ultimate counterpunch.

Alabama linebacker Henry To'o To'o helped stop that counterpunch. To'o To'o batted down a pass on a first-and-goal play where Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce was wide open in the end zone. 

Alec Pierce was open (via ESPN).
Alec Pierce was open (via ESPN).

Pierce dropped a high throw on second down and a slow-developing pass play on third down lost yardage. The Bearcats had to settle for a field goal and a 7-3 deficit. And it turned out that 0-0 was the only time the game was ever tied.

Bryce Young's pitch to Brian Robinson

Score: Alabama 10, Cincinnati 3, 2:22 2Q

Alabama led 10-3 in the second quarter and had the ball at its own 6 with 3:39 to go before halftime after a muffed punt and a personal foul penalty. A long TD drive before halftime could put the game out of reach.

Facing second-and-7 at the Alabama 19, Alabama QB Bryce Young dropped back to pass. With no one open and Young unable to go anywhere, he pitched the ball to running back Brian Robinson. It was an incredible heads-up play. Robinson rumbled 23 yards to the Alabama 42 with 2:22 left and made a TD before the end of the half much more possible.

Bryce Young's TD pass to Ja'Corey Brooks

Score: Alabama 17, Cincinnati 3, 1:36 2Q

The TD on that drive came three plays later. Young hit wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks for a 14-yard completion on the play after Robinson’s run. Then after an incomplete pass, Young found Brooks for a 44-yard TD with 1:36 to go in the half.

Alabama needed its secondary receivers to step up because of Cincinnati’s top corners Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant and the absence of wide receiver John Metchie III because of a knee injury he sustained in the SEC title game. And Brooks again showed that he was able to get open when the Tide needed him for a 17-3 halftime lead.

Brooks entered the game with five catches for 79 yards. Two of those catches — and 49 of those yards and the TD — came late in regulation against Auburn after Jameson Williams had been ejected in that game.

Bryce Young's TD pass to Cameron Latu

Score: Alabama 24, Cincinnati 6, 13:52 4Q

Cincinnati trailed by 11 for most of the third quarter after a field goal on its opening drive of the half. The Bearcats elected to kick a field goal down 14 instead of going for it on fourth-and-5 at the Alabama 19.

The Bearcats never got within 11 points the rest of the game. Alabama forced Cincinnati to go three-and-out after an interception of Bryce Young and the Crimson Tide promptly began the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 70-yard TD drive that ended with a TD pass to a wide-open Cameron Latu.

That score gave Alabama a 24-6 lead and a lead that looked insurmountable.

Brian Branch and Will Anderson's sack

Score: Alabama 24, Cincinnati 6, 10:22, 4Q

Cincinnati knew it needed to get a touchdown on its next drive to stay in the game. And the Bearcats were able to get to the Alabama 22 before needing to get three yards on fourth down.

Cincinnati called timeout to figure out a good play call against Alabama’s defensive alignment and Ridder kept the ball after play-fake to the left. Alabama’s Brian Branch wasn’t fooled and he stayed home and immediately got into Ridder’s face. Branch and star linebacker Will Anderson — who snuffed out a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half and combined for a key sack earlier in the second half — piled on Ridder and ended any chances of a Cincinnati comeback.

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