When the Alabama Crimson Tide face off against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Cotton Bowl as 13.5 point favorites according to DraftKings sportsbook, a heavyweight bout will ensue between Cincinnati’s nation leading pass efficiency defense and Alabama’s high octane passing attack that produced the first Heisman QB in school history in sophomore Bryce Young. The Bearcats boast Jim Thorpe winner Coby Bryant at one corner, and this post is meant as no slight to him. He has been outstanding all season.
Still, perhaps no matchup will have a greater impact on the final outcome than the one on the other side, where Biletnikoff finalist Jameson Williams will undoubtedly face off against one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Gardner has almost everything that NFL scouts want to see in an elite corner. Listed at 6’3” and 200 lbs., he has the wingspan to contest balls at the catch point, a critical skill for a player who is charged with covering the opponent’s top pass catcher on a weekly basis. Gardner has flashed on tape all season, earning first team All American honors with his zero touchdowns allowed. Besides elite ball skills he is a sure tackler and, in perhaps the highest compliment a DB can receive, opponents have generally stayed away. And, why not?
SAUCE GARDNER PICK ⬇️pic.twitter.com/nqpR8ErWDi— PFF (@PFF) November 13, 2021
Check out these numbers from David Ebben at The Athletic.
The Cincinnati All-America cornerback has a reputation that precedes itself. Opposing offenses usually just stay away. He may be locked onto Alabama’s Jameson Williams in the Cotton Bowl with a spot in the national title game on the line, especially with John Metchie III out with a knee injury. Williams’ 15 touchdown catches are more than everyone but Pitt’s Jordan Addison, but Williams will have a huge task facing off against Gardner.
Gardner has given up just 17 catches for 177 yards on those 36 targets. Of all defensive backs who faced at least 300 coverage snaps, his 57.9 pass efficiency on those targets is the best mark among all FBS defensive backs.
Gardner has played in 12 games this season, which means that opposing passers have managed the nerve to throw his way a mere thrice a game. He has three interceptions on the season, or one of every 12 passes thrown in his direction. Some may quibble with the competition faced, but that is top level performance by any definition.
The one mild question mark for Gardner is top end speed, which sets up an interesting battle with a burner like Williams. Jameson has wheels that make scouts drool, as evidenced by his phenomenal big play ability. Check out this stat:
Amount of TD catches of 70 yards or more while at Alabama:— Thomas Isaacs (@ThomasIsaacs20) December 19, 2021
Devonta Smith: 2
Amari Cooper: 4
Julio Jones: 1
Jerry Jeudy: 3
Calvin Ridley: 2
Jaylen Waddle: 4
Henry Ruggs: 2
Jameson Williams this season: 4
Folks, that is one season for Jameson compared to full careers for the other guys. He reportedly runs in the sub-4.4 range, which is believable for anyone who has watched him run right past safeties.
Bryce Young connects with Jameson Williams— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 4, 2021
Bama extends its lead to 31-17 against Georgia! pic.twitter.com/ZWUD8hSk3I
This matchup should be fascinating. Gardner excels in press coverage, and will attempt to use his roughly 10 lb. weight advantage to muscle Williams at the line of scrimmage and get him off his route. He will likely be quick and fluid enough in his hips to challenge the shorter routes and crossers. As seen above Williams is best when he can get deep, which depends on the offensive line for Alabama to protect a bit longer.
This is not going to be an easy matchup, and Metchie’s absence puts an even greater emphasis on it. If Alabama is able to hit on a couple of deep balls to Williams, everything else will likely fall into place. If Gardner aces his NFL audition and holds Jameson to pedestrian numbers, there will likely be some Maalox moments late in the game.
As we love to say around here, Hope for the Best.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.