Alabama's aerial attack must move on without John Metchie III

AP file photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama wide receivers John Metchie III and Jameson Williams, right, have been the top targets this season for Bryce Young, but the Crimson Tide head into the College Football Playoff knowing Metchie will miss the remainder of the season due to injury.

Although last Saturday's 41-24 surprise decking of Georgia yielded a 29th Southeastern Conference championship and the top seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff for Alabama, there is some reconstruction taking place these days in Tuscaloosa.

The receiver room is in need of repair.

Alabama played the entire second half in Mercedes-Benz Stadium without junior John Metchie III, who impacted the first two quarters with six receptions for 97 yards and an 18-yard touchdown that provided the Crimson Tide their first lead at 14-10. The 6-foot, 195-pounder from Brampton, Canada, tore his anterior cruciate ligament late in the half and will be unavailable for Alabama's playoff march that begins with a Cotton Bowl date against fourth-seeded Cincinnati on New Year's Eve.

"It was harsh for me," fellow junior receiver and Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams said this week. "John is my brother. When I came here, he was one of the first guys to take me under his wing, and we just started kicking it. That's my brother, and it was pretty hard to see that happen."

The Tide's initial response to Metchie's injury was impressive, as a 55-yard scoring connection from Bryce Young to Williams less than two minutes into the second half extended their lead to 31-17. Alabama then used a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jordan Battle with 11:59 remaining to snag a three-touchdown advantage.

Young had compiled 312 of his eventual 421 aerial yards after his 55-yard strike to Williams, but a 12-minute, 69-yard drive in the fourth quarter that culminated with Will Reichard's 41-yard field goal did include Slade Bolden's 24-yard reception and a 9-yard catch by Ja'Corey Brooks that helped snuff any miracle hopes harbored by the Bulldogs.

"As much as I hate it and we all hate Metchie getting hurt like that, we always preach next man up," Bolden said afterward. "You never know what circumstance can happen and when adversity can strike. Next man up is how we practice, and next man up is how we play.

"That's what we did in this game. Guys stepped up when we needed them to, and thankfully it worked out."

Saturday marked the second consecutive year Alabama lost a key offensive component in the SEC title game, with starting center and eventual Rimington Award winner Landon Dickerson getting hurt in last December's 52-46 outlasting of Florida.

photo Crimson Tide photos / Alabama junior receiver Jameson Williams had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns during last Saturday's SEC championship victory against Georgia and is certain to get a lot of attention from Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl national semifinal on New Year's Eve.

Metchie's 96 receptions lead the Tide this season, with those catches having amassed 1,142 yards (12.33 yards per reception) and eight touchdowns. His absence could put more of a focus on Williams, who defines the term deep threat with 68 catches for 1,445 yards (21.25) and 15 touchdowns.

"I've seen how he works and how he steps up in big moments countless times," Young said of Williams this week. "Obviously he's just huge for us."

There is a sizable gap in productivity between the Metchie-Williams tandem and Bolden, the redshirt junior who is more of the possession type with 32 catches for 333 yards (10.41) and two touchdowns. Young certainly has fifth-year senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. (31 catches for 268 yards) and tight ends Cameron Latu (20-299) and Jahleel Billingsley (16-244) at his disposal in the passing game, but who among the younger receivers will use this extra time to step up?

Traeshon Holden, who played in key moments late last season when Jaylen Waddle was hurt, and Brooks are the top candidates, while JoJo Earle is the wild card. Earle has 12 catches for 148 yards (12.33) but injured his knee Nov. 13 against New Mexico State and hasn't played since.

Holden has 15 receptions for 211 yards (14.07) and a touchdown, while Brooks has five catches for 79 yards (15.80) and the biggest score of Alabama's season. It was Brooks who hauled in Young's 28-yard pass with 24 seconds remaining in the Iron Bowl that enabled the Tide to rally for their 24-22 win in four overtimes at Auburn.

"Ja'Corey and Trae are guys I've worked with a lot, and I see the work that they put in throughout the week," Young said. "They're guys I've got tremendous confidence in. They understand the moment, and they understand what it's going to take. They know they have to step up. They're going to get an opportunity, and I know they're going to step up."

Said Williams: "We all have to step up and do a better job. No matter who it is, I feel we all have the big-play mentality. We have a lot of talent in that room. We just have to make the plays."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.