College Football Playoff: Washington can upset Alabama if they do these 5 things

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Washington is doomed in their national semifinal College Football Playoff game against Alabama. But are they?

Washington is set to take on Alabama in the 2016 Peach Bowl for a shot at that elusive national championship game. The unbeaten and mighty Tide are heavy favorites against the Huskies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Washington can’t pull of the upset of the decade.

Alabama is a talented, deep, well-coached team who puts their foot on an opponent’s throat and doesn’t stop until they feel it snap. But are they vulnerable? Certainly…every team is.

So how can the Huskies hope to defeat a team who many people believe could actually compete with the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers this season? It won’t be easy, and Chris Petersen‘s team will have to be nearly perfect.

Other than playing typically solid Washington Huskies football, there are five key ingredients that will have to be there for the upset. If the Huskies can follow this roadmap, there’s an excellent shot for a win.

December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin (9) during the third quarter in the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi

Run The Ball Effectively

The strength of Alabama’s defense lies in their front seven. The Crimson Tide defensive line and linebacker corps may be the very best in the nation, and the Huskies will have to challenge that group.

Myles Gaskin will need to make himself known, and the Husky offensive line will have to hold their own and make some holes. This won’t be an easy task against a defensive front who ranked first in the nation, giving up only 63.38 rushing yards per game and surrendered only three rushing touchdowns.

The Huskies don’t necessarily have to completely break down Alabama’s defensive front, but they’ll need to get Gaskin and the other backs some positive yards to force Alabama’s linebackers to creep up towards the line – setting up some effective play-action for quarterback Jake Browning.

If Washington can total 150 or more rushing yards, even if they don’t punch it in, it will keep Bama’s defense honest.

Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) escapes a tackle by LSU Tigers linebacker Duke Riley (40) on a touchdown run during the fourth quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Spy And Contain Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts is probably the best all-around quarterback in the nation, and is certainly the best true freshman. The Huskies need to make Hurts throw the ball, and prevent him from keeping drives alive with his legs.

Hurts can get to the edge quickly and pick up yards, so the Huskies will need to sacrifice a little pass rush to spy Hurts. One of the linebackers needs to shadow Jalen and keep him from turning the corner when he scrambles.

Forcing Hurts to throw the ball away or even into some bad decisions will be the order of the day. Even quarterbacks as good as Hurts will try to force the issue in big games like this and that could result in turnovers for the Huskies.

If Hurts is going to beat Washington, they should make sure it’s with his arm and not his legs.

Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Kevin King (20) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver N

Win the Special Teams and Turnover Battles

Two keys in any game like this are special teams and turnovers, and the Huskies need to win both.

Alabama has allowed some big kickoff and punt returns this season, giving up an average of 21.56 yards per kickoff return (eight for 30 or more yards), and 12.5 yards per punt return (two for over 40 or more yards). If the Washington returners can give Browning and the offense a short field, it will keep things interesting.

The Huskies also need to do what they’ve been best in the nation at all season, and that’s taking the ball away. Their 33 total takeaways and 1.62 turnovers per game lead the FBS, and that could be an equalizer against an Alabama team who has lost the ball 19 times this season.

The Washington secondary could be a huge factor in this game. If the defense controls Hurts and keeps him from running wild, he could be forced into some bad throws into disguised coverage.

Dec 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) runs for a touchdown after a catch defended by Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Chidobe Awuzie (4) in the third quarter during the Pac-12 championship at Levi

Put Alabama’s Secondary To The Test

Running the ball effectively may be one of the keys, but Washington also needs to rely on what got them here, and that’s quarterback play from Jake Browning and some outstanding speed and talent in his targets John Ross and Dante Pettis.

Even if the running game isn’t going as well as hoped, Browning will need to air the ball out and put Alabama’s corners and safeties in positions where they are forced to make plays.

Alabama wasn’t quite as good against the pass as they were the run, however finishing 15th nationally and only giving up 184.5 passing yards per game is still tough. Where this secondary has shown some flaws is against the big plays.

The Tide have given up 11 passing touchdowns and 29 pass plays of 30 or more yards. That means if Ross and Pettis can get some separation, the chance for some big plays will be there. Most importantly, the o-line has to protect Browning to give those receivers time to get downfield.


Reach Into Chris Petersen’s Bag of Tricks

It’s a bowl game and Chris Petersen has had a month to prepare. Many is the top-ranked team who have faced this and come away empty.

It’s certain Alabama will be looking for some trick plays, so it will be up to coach Petersen to pull them out at precisely the right time.

Watch for some double-reverse, halfback pass and misdirection plays to keep Alabama guessing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Gaskin or Lavon Coleman line up in the wildcat formation either (and of course, never EVER rule out the Statue of Liberty play, right Oklahoma?)

The Huskies may not win the game on a wild trick play, but some trickeration could help keep important drives alive and keep the Alabama defense off-balance.

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The Huskies have the personnel to make this more than just an interesting game. If they play to a level they are capable of and make these listed five things happen, we could see one of the biggest upsets in college football postseason history.

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