College football’s national championship matchup for the 2021 season is set, as Alabama defeated Cincinnati 27-6 and Georgia beat Michigan 34-11 to book spots in Indianapolis. Continuing a theme throughout the College Football Playoff era, neither semifinal was competitive. The Crimson Tide controlled the game from the outset, and the Bulldogs followed up their SEC rival with a similar outing, completely dominating the Big Ten champions.
The all-SEC showdown for the national title will be the third time two teams from college football’s best conference will meet for the title. The previous all-SEC title games took place in 2011 and ’17. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs did not play in the regular season in ’17 but met in Atlanta for an overtime thriller (and Alabama victory).
Here’s a look at how the CFB Playoff transpired on Friday and how each team booked a trip to the national championship thanks to dominant victories:
Cotton Bowl – Alabama 27, Cincinnati 6
How Alabama Won: Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns on 17 of 28 completions, but the real story of Alabama’s victory was its defense and running game. Running back Brian Robinson pounded Cincinnati’s defense for 204 yards (averaged 7.8 yards per rush), and as a team, the Crimson Tide posted 301 on the ground. The strong ground game allowed Alabama to control the line of scrimmage and the time of possession, which took a toll on the Bearcats’ defense.
Alabama’s defense gave up 60 yards on a 13-play drive on Cincinnati’s first possession, but coach Nick Saban’s group made a couple of key stops in the red zone to force a field goal. After that, the Crimson Tide limited the Bearcats to just 16 yards over the next four drives. Cincinnati pieced together a couple of nice drives in the second half, but none of those threatened to put the ball in the end zone. Alabama limited the Bearcats to just 3.8 yards per play, registered six tackles for a loss, and allowed only two third-down conversions on 12 attempts.
Offensive MVP: Brian Robinson, RB, Alabama
Robinson had the best game of his career in Tuscaloosa. The senior ran for 204 yards on 26 carries to power Alabama’s offense to an average of 6.4 yards per play and 27 points against a standout defense.
Defensive MVP: Will Anderson, LB, Alabama
Anderson was a key cog in Alabama’s dominance at the line of scrimmage on Friday. The sophomore collected six tackles (two for a loss) and two sacks, while also helping the Crimson Tide limit Cincinnati to just 74 rushing yards.
Cincinnati’s Loss Doesn’t Minimize a Great Season
Sure, Cincinnati lost by 21 points and the game was controlled by Alabama from the start. However, losing in the CFB Playoff doesn’t take anything away from a great season by the Bearcats. Coach Luke Fickell’s team is the first Group of 5 program to make the playoff and certainly have nothing to be ashamed of. Remember, most semifinal games in the playoff era have been one-sided affairs, so Friday’s 21-point defeat isn’t out of the norm. But for Cincinnati, Fickell’s talent evaluation and development paved the way for a handful of veterans to guide this team to a perfect 13-0 regular season and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. This year’s team is easily the best in school history and should be remembered for all of the highlights – not minimized for the loss in Arlington.
Orange Bowl – Georgia 34, Michigan 11
How Georgia Won: Everything clicked for Georgia on Friday night in a dominant win. The Bulldogs used a strong outing from quarterback Stetson Bennett to earn points on each of their first five drives to lead 27-3 at halftime. Bennett was sharp through the air, and the ground game churned out 5.4 yards per rush over 35 attempts. Running back James Cook ran for 32 yards but did more damage through the air, grabbing three receptions for 99 yards and a score. Also, Georgia’s offensive line held up against a stout Michigan front. Bennett wasn’t sacked, and the Wolverines recorded only two tackles for a loss.
Dominant has been the best word to describe Georgia’s defense all season, and this group delivered another standout performance on Friday. Michigan managed 325 yards (5.2 per snap), and the team’s standout ground game was limited to 88 yards. While the Wolverines hit on a few big plays, the Bulldogs stepped up when it mattered. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s offense lost three turnovers, and three other drives ended on downs. Also, Georgia’s defense ended the night with four sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
Offensive MVP: Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia
Coming off a shaky performance in the SEC title game, Bennett answered plenty of critics on Friday night. The senior was flawless against the Wolverines, completing 21 of 31 throws for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 32 yards on the ground and did not take a sack or commit a turnover.
Defensive MVP: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Dean was all over the field in the Orange Bowl. He collected seven tackles (two for a loss) and one sack to lead a dominant effort by the Georgia defense.
Harbaugh’s Reboot and Bet on Himself Paid off in 2021
Michigan’s hopes of a national title ended on Friday night, but the season was a massive success in Ann Arbor. After a dismal 2-4 record last year, Harbaugh took a pay cut and rebooted his staff. That bet on himself paid off, as Michigan rebounded with a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten championship, and the program’s first CFB Playoff berth. The Wolverines will have holes to fill in ’22, but Harbaugh has this program back on track – and likely squarely in the mix for another trip to the playoff next fall.