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Cotton Bowl 2021: Nick Saban goes old school offensively as Alabama smothers Cincinnati in playoff win

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ARLINGTON, Texas — No. 1 Alabama cruised past No. 4 Cincinnati 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on Friday in a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup that might as well have been played in 2009. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for a career-high 204 yards while the team as a whole gained 301 yards on the ground — a season-best by a sizable margin — against a Bearcats defense that had allowed just 3.33 yards per game on the season and hadn’t given up more than 133 in a game since Nov. 6.

It looked much more like an old-school offense under Nick Saban that was predicated on establishing the run and breaking the will of the opposing defense. That was apparent on the first drive of the game when Alabama had 10 straight rushing plays on the ground prior to quarterback Bryce Young’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Slade Bolden.

“We started out running the ball,” Robinson said. “We had positive runs in the run game, and we had to trust it. Just stay with it. We knew we were going to have an opportunity to run the ball with the rest of the game. So, with that first drive, coming off 10 carries, it just let me get my mind right and be prepared to run the ball the rest of the game.”

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Where on Earth has this been all season? 

The Crimson Tide gained just 91 yards in the narrow win over Florida, six in the nail-biter over LSU and 71 in the four-overtime triumph over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The offensive line was an abject disaster up until the SEC Championship Game when it dominated a Georgia defense that was widely-regarded as one of the best defenses in a generation. 

It was that performance, however, that gave this unit the confidence it needed heading into the College Football Playoff.

“I literally put all my heart into this,” said Robinson. “This university, that team in that locker room, I don’t want to let my brothers down. I don’t ever want to let my coaches down. I don’t ever want to let my university down. I give it everything I got, and it’s a reflection of all of the hard work that we put in during the week.”

Alabama’s identity, for the better part of a decade, has been its high-flying aerial assault. That transformation started in 2014 when Saban hired Lane Kiffin to serve as his offensive coordinator, and has evolved to a point where it’s considered a major upset if an Alabama offensive player isn’t invited to New York City in December as a Heisman Trophy finalist. 

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This game plan, while old-school, had a new-school twist, even though Young didn’t light up the scoresheet through the air.

“A lot of these running plays had run-pass options and passes [off of them],” Saban said. “I thought Bryce did a really good job of making good decisions and taking advantage of the runs when we had them and a couple of advantage throws when we had them.”

This performance against Cincinnati should terrify the rest of the country, not just Alabama’s opponent in the College Football Playoff National Championship — although that will be the main storyline for the next 10 days. The college football world witnessed Saban go retro on the game’s biggest stage when every aspect of college football has gone the other way for an entire decade. 

There’s a phrase that accompanied old-school Alabama in the early part of the 2010s that referred to the offense as “Saban’s Joyless Murderball.” That’s exactly what Cincinnati got a dose of, except the “joyless” part might need to be altered. After all, this specific team showing that it has this kind of performance in its arsenal after all that it has gone through this season should make everybody — Saban included — quite joyful as the calendar turns to 2022.

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Mike Trout injury: Angels star returns from IL, records hit in first start since July 12 vs. Tigers

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USATSI

The Los Angeles Angels reinstated outfielder Mike Trout from the injured list and slotted him in as their center fielder and No. 2 hitter on Friday against the Detroit Tigers in what served as his first game since July 12. Trout, for his part, delivered a hard-hit single in his second at-bat as part of a 1-for-4 effort with two strikeouts. The Angels won by a 1-0 final all the same (box score) with lefty Patrick Sandoval throwing his first career shutout.

Trout had missed more than a month because of a rare back condition. In a corresponding move, the Angels optioned outfielder Steven Duggar to Triple-A.

Trout, now 31 years old, batted .270/.368/.599 (169 OPS+) with 24 home runs over the course of his first 79 games this season. His contributions earned him election to the All-Star Game (which he did not appear in) and were worth an estimated 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference’s calculations. 

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Trout was dealing with what the Angels’ trainer described as “costovertebral dysfunction at T5.” It’s a condition that he’s expected to deal with for the rest of his career, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be limited in availability or output. 

It should be noted that Trout did not partake in a rehab assignment. Usually, players who miss more than a couple of weeks are sent out to the minors as a means of rebuilding their rhythm through the use of low-pressure in-game repetitions. Clearly, Trout and the Angels did not think that was necessary in this instance.

The Angels began a three-game weekend series in Detroit on Friday night, the first step of a 10-game, three-city road trip. Trout’s next opportunity to play in front of his home crowd won’t be until Monday Aug. 29, when the Angels welcome the New York Yankees to town for a three-game set.

Duggar, for his part, was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers earlier this month. In nine games with the Angels, he went 1-for-19 with a triple and 10 more strikeouts than walks. 



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Gausman continues to shine as Blue Jays shut out slumping Yankees

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NEW YORK – Kevin Gausman is having a tremendous season, despite regularly encountering dumb luck. Consider that the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander headed into his outing Friday against the New York Yankees worth 4.4 wins above replacement, as calculated by Fangraphs, third among all big-league pitchers. Yet his ERA of 3.16 more was more than a run above his FIP of 2.08, and then of course there was his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .372, highest by a wide margin among qualified pitchers.

The way the Cleveland Guardians bled him for five runs last weekend in a 7-2 victory, finding holes on pitches that beat them, was a prime example of why the Blue Jays went 11-11 through his first 22 starts.

“It’s weird,” interim manager John Schneider said before the game. “When you put his stuff in a vacuum, he’s like, really, really, really good. So part of it is I think everyone goes through those fluctuations of up and down, lucky, unlucky, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher. We like his stuff. Obviously, we trust it and I’m sure things will turn in his favour.”

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In start No. 23, they certainly did, Gausman dominating over seven shutout innings in pushing the Blue Jays to a third straight win, 4-0 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

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Initially, it looked like he could be on for a night of struggle when DJ LeMahieu rocked his first pitch of the game, a get-me-over fastball at 91.2 m.p.h., 404 feet to centre where Whit Merrifield tracked it down on a play that had a 35-per-cent catch probability, and Aaron Judge followed with a walk. But Gausman escaped that inning unscathed, struck out the side in the second and allowed just three hits over the next frames while striking out seven.

The Yankees, already out of sorts for an extended period, flailed away helplessly at his mostly fastball/splitter mix, with eight of their 15 swings at splits resulting in a whiff. Even with his fastball velocity down a tick, sitting at 94.1 instead of his season average of 95, he was in command from the second inning onwards.

The offence, meanwhile, missing George Springer who fouled a ball off his knee during a five-hit effort in Thursday’s 9-2 win, didn’t make it one-sided in the same way but again posed a steady threat from the jump. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was robbed of a home run in right by a leaping Oswaldo Cabrera on the game’s first pitch and the pressure was on from there.

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Yankees starter Jameson Taillon kept them in check until the third when Merrifield opened the inning with a single, advanced to third on Cavan Biggio’s double and scored on a Gurriel groundout.

An inning later, Alejandro Kirk opened the frame with a base hit before Teoscar Hernandez launched home run No. 18 over the wall in left-centre, having just missed a shot to centre in the second.

The Blue Jays wasted a chance to bury the Yankees in the sixth, when they put men on second and third with none out, but Lou Trivino came in for Taillon and stranded the runners. They did eventually manage to add on in the ninth when they loaded the bases against Aroldis Chapman before Ron Marinaccio surrendered a sacrifice fly to Danny Jansen that made it 4-0.

Jordan Romano then locked things down in the ninth, ensuring a brilliant night from Gausman didn’t go to waste. He’s now thrown at least six shutout innings in three of his last four starts, surrounded by that one bad-luck outing against Cleveland.

It’s a reminder of how great a season he’s having, one even better than his impressive stats suggest.

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Paul Goldschmidt launches a deep solo homer vs. Diamondbacks

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Paul Goldschmidt helped the St. Louis Cardinals grab an early 1-0 lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks, thanks to his solo homer in the first inning.



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