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Highlights from Alabama’s win over Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl

Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden scored on the opening drive of the game. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)
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Defending champion Alabama defeated upstart Cincinnati, 27-6, in the Cotton Bowl to qualify for its sixth championship game in the College Football Playoff era. The Crimson Tide will face Georgia on Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

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Check out highlights from Friday’s game below.

6:48 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Every Alabama playoff victory reinforces the central fact of this era of college football, a period of constant change off the field and permanence on it: We are seeing something we will never see again. The machine at Alabama under Nick Saban will never be replicated, especially as name, image and likeness deals seem poised to level the playing field in recruiting. Alabama is now 6-1 in College Football Playoff semifinals and 9-3 in the event overall. The eighth CFP championship will take place in January, and Alabama will play in its sixth in an effort to win its fourth.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
6:33 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Now that Alabama leads, 24-6, early in the fourth quarter, the conversation can safely turn to what Cincinnati’s appearance in the playoff says about future Group of Five playoff aspirants. Did Cincinnati belong here? Should other teams like them receive chances? Yes and yes. Cincinnati has been physically overwhelmed, but Alabama overwhelms most teams it plays in some fashion. Alabama beat Ole Miss by 21. Alabama beat Georgia just last month by 17. Cincinnati was more competitive against Alabama than Michigan State was in 2015 or Notre Dame in 2021 or even Clemson in 2017. Cincinnati didn’t play its best game on offense, and that’s disappointing. But they deserved the chance, and their performance shouldn’t be held against other teams from smaller conferences.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
6:14 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Bryce Young had thrown four interceptions in 483 attempts this season by the middle of the third quarter. Cincinnati pressured him up the middle, causing his 484th attempt to sail over Jameson Williams’s head. Bryan Cook — a transfer who started his career at Howard — slid to make the catch. The Bearcats desperately needed an extra possession to make this a game but went three-and-out and squandered their chance.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
5:55 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Cincinnati stabilized itself coming out of the locker room with a methodical field goal drive. The most important adjustment the Bearcats made was using Desmond Ridder as a runner. Ridder began the drive picking up nine yards on an option play, and he ran a designed counter for a first down on second and short. Ridder ran less this season than he did earlier in his career, a testament to his ability as a passer and a sign that Cincinnati did not want to risk injuring him in games they mostly won in blowouts. But they’ll need Ridder to be a multidimensional threat. There’s no greater equalizer against an elite defense than a running quarterback.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
5:28 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: As Cincinnati heads into halftime down, 17-3, it hasn’t shown many signs that it can erase a two-touchdown lead against Alabama. Desmond Ridder has gained just 3.5 yards per pass attempt and the Bearcats have 17 yards rushing. After the Bearcats recorded four first downs on their opening drive, they converted just one the rest of the half. Cincinnati kept pass rushing star Will Anderson in check, but the rest of the Alabama pass rush pressured Ridder constantly. The Bearcats will need to score on their opening drive of the second half and force a turnover or two — and even that might not be enough. Alabama’s dominance can be seen in how it played its past two games. Bryce Young shredded Georgia in the SEC championship game. Against Cincinnati, he has handed the ball Brian Robinson Jr. and watched him punish tacklers. They can win however they need to.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
5:06 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: That was a really bad three-and-out for Cincinnati. Alabama has run 37 plays to Cincinnati’s 21, and the Bearcats’ defense is showing fatigue against Alabama’s mauling running game. Mason Fletcher’s punt, a muff by Alabama and a personal foul moved the Crimson Tide back. But Cincinnati may still be in trouble trying to keep it a one-score game headed into halftime.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
4:45 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Cincinnati’s offense is built on quick, accurate passes. Alabama has thwarted Desmond Ridder’s timing with three batted passes in Cincinnati’s first three drives. The first of them saved a touchdown after Alec Pierce dusted a cornerback on a slant at the goal line. The most recent, from Phidarian Mathis, forced a punt on third down. Alabama has wisely throttled down its pass rush with the aim of getting hands in passing lanes. Ridder’s unconventional low arm angle has made that easier.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
4:34 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Cincinnati had its chances to stop Alabama’s second scoring drive. It forced a third-and-9, which an offsides call on Myjai Sanders, the Bearcats’ best pass rusher and a likely early-round NFL draft pick, turned into a third-and-4. It then forced a third-and-14, but Jameson Williams’s diving catch gained 12 yards, and Brian Robinson Jr. ran over a tackler for a first down on the resulting fourth down. The Bearcats stiffened at the goal line, with linebacker Darrian Beavers’s second-down sack setting up a third-and-long. Forcing a field goal was a win, but Cincinnati has too small a margin for error not to capitalize when its defense puts itself in position to get off the field. Cincinnati allowed 142 yards in the first quarter, and to be down only seven with the ball feels like a big win for the Bearcats.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
4:02 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: One player to watch when Cincinnati has the ball is tight end Josh Whyle, one of the many Cincinnati players who belie the small-school label. He will probably be chosen in the second or third round in the NFL draft. Whyle has been a force blocking on the edge as Cincinnati has moved the ball in response to Alabama’s opening touchdown drive. The Tide has been devoting two defenders to him on pass patterns, which quarterback Desmond Ridder has taken advantage of by spreading precise passes to other receivers. It’s a good reminder that the Bearcats don’t have nearly as much NFL talent as Alabama, but they have enough to find advantages in certain places.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
3:48 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: On its opening drive, Alabama lined up with receivers spread across the field and then ran right at Cincinnati with power back Brian Robinson. The Crimson Tide, it seems, wants to make the game about its offensive line versus Cincinnati’s defensive line and minimize the impact of the Bearcats’ excellent cornerback tandem, “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant. It also serves the purpose of wearing down Cincinnati’s front seven, which has far less depth than Alabama’s best SEC opponents. Alabama is bigger and deep on the lines, and it seems intent on emphasizing those edges.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
3:24 p.m.
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Adam Kilgore: Here’s hoping today’s games reject the pattern of College Football Playoff semifinal history. Only three of 14 semifinals have been decided by a touchdown. The blowouts have provided some memorable moments, like Jameis Winston falling and fumbling in Florida State’s blowout loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and Christian Wilkins’s fake punt catch in an entertaining first half in Clemson’s first playoff victory, over Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl. But drama has been limited. Maybe Georgia’s presence will help — the Bulldogs’ 54-48 overtime triumph over Oklahoma is one of the best CFP games in the brief history. At the very least, new blood in Michigan and Cincinnati will provide intrigue. Can Michigan validate the Big Ten’s excellent showing in bowl season? Will Cincinnati prove a team from outside the Power Five can become a true national power? It should be a fascinating day of football no matter what.
Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
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