Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban speaks to the press after the SEC Championship college football game against the Florida Gators at Georgia Dome. Alabama Crimson Tide won 54-16. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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The committee has spoken, No. 1 Alabama (13-0) and No. 4 Washington (12-1) will square off in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl for the rights to face Ohio State or Clemson in Tampa for the national championship.
These two teams haven’t faced since 1986 in the Sun Bowl, and their programs have vastly changed since then as they prepare for the Peach Bowl.
Washington’s thriving under Chris Peterson’s guidance, and Alabama’s in their best 10-year span under Nick Saban. These two teams have dominated their conferences this year, and will battle in an intriguing matchup. Alabama and Washington faced one common opponent, USC, Alabama won by 46, Washington lost at home.
Two prolific defenses will square off against each other in what could be an epic showdown. Jake Browning vs. Jalen Hurts is a quarterback battle few thought we’d ever see going into the year, but it looks to be a battle of two of the young bright stars in college football.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) celebrates after recovering an onside kick during the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Marlon Humphrey, CB: Alabama will be tested by Washington’s best receivers, John Ross and Dante Pettis, who are very athletic receivers who can bust defenses wide open. They’re big play threats who need to be contained, and Alabama’s best corner, Marlon Humphrey will be a huge key if he is fully healthy, in stopping them. Him and Anthony Averett will need to limit them to limit the Huskies’ offense.
Rashaan Evans, ILB: Evans has played as a backup most of his career, and has only played inside linebacker after depth issues arose earlier this year. Evans has now been thrust into the starting inside linebacker role when Shaun Dion Hamilton (3rd highest graded ILB in SEC in 2016) tore his ACL. He struggled and excelled at times against Florida, but he will be definitely be a target of the Huskies’ game plan.
Jalen Hurts, QB: The true freshman never seems to get flustered, ever. He has bounced back each time he has turned the ball over, and is setting records at Bama. Expect Lane Kiffin to unleash the best of the Tide’s playbook to maximize Hurts’ running ability and to give him some open looks downfield to minimize his turnover chances. If the Huskies can stop Alabama’s trio of backs, there will be a lot of pressure on Hurts to lead the offense down the field.
December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) celebrates after the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi Stadium.
Sidney Jones, CB: Alabama has a duo of very talented receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley, and both can do a lot of damage on any play from a jet sweep, to a deep bomb. Jones will more than likely be matched up on Ridley, but him and the rest of the secondary will need to make it difficult for Jalen Hurts to throw the ball by locking down all of their receiving threats.
Myles Gaskin, RB: Alabama’s rushing defense is very tough, and Myles Gaskin is very talented. He went 1,339 yards and 10 scores this year while Alabama’s defense has only allowed 824 yards and three touchdowns, with the last rushing touchdown coming against Tennessee in week nine. The Huskies will need Gaskin to get going to loosen up the front seven, and to help take some pressure off Jake Browning.
Vita Vea, DL: 6’5″ 332 pounder will play a huge role in slowing Alabama’s ground attack up the middle. Alabama’s backs are key to their offensive success, and having a big and disruptive body in the middle like Vea helps. He’s a talented tackle who will most likely be squaring off with Bradley Bozeman for the game, and will need to create some issues for the inside running game to deter Alabama’s offense.
Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Joshua Jacobs (25) celebrates with teammates during the second quarter against the Florida Gators of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Establish The Running Game- Alabama’s offense is built around the run, and Washington’s rushing defense is very difficult to run on. Washington has the 27th ranked rushing attack giving up 123.5 yards per game on the ground, and would rank as the fourth best rushing defense this team’s faced all year. If Alabama can get Jalen Hurts, Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Josh Jacobs running it will set up the passing game and wear down that Husky defense that ranks 12th in total defense.
Make Jake Browning Beat You- If there’s one thing Alabama’s done better under Jeremy Pruitt than Kirby Smart, it’s disguising their coverages. They’ve been so good at it, and will need to disguise their coverages and blitzes well to bring the heat on Jake Browning. Browning’s arm strength is iffy and to beat Alabama you need to be able to push the ball downfield. The Tide will stop the run, as they always do, and they will force Jake Browning to beat them through the air, and against their vaunted pass rush.
Don’t Let It Come Down To Special Teams- Adam Griffith is a liability at kicker at times, and nobody on the Alabama side would want this game to come down to a field goal. Special teams has been known to kill Alabama in the past (LSU 2011 & Ole Miss 2014), and they can’t let it be the deciding factor in this game. Alabama’s special teams has been considerably better this year than in years past, but the field goal unit is still an issue. Limiting special teams mistakes will be a key to winning for the Tide and not having it come down to a field goal (Griffith’s 19/26 on the year) to win.
Oct 8, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Washington Huskies linebacker Psalm Wooching (28), offensive lineman Michael Kneip (67) and linebacker Azeem Victor (36) celebrate with teammates after beating the University of Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies won 70-21. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Create Turnovers- Jalen Hurts has been a revelation for Alabama, and has excelled as the first true freshman quarterback to start for Nick Saban. However, since October 15th he has been turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Washington’s defense is good, and to slow Alabama down and put themselves in a position to win they need to win time of possession, and take the ball away from Alabama. Nobody’s been able to win off their turnovers yet, but flustering Hurts and getting the ball back is a start.
Oct 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Huskies coach Chris Peterson (R) celebrates with safety Budda Baker (32) after defeating the Southern California Trojans 17-12 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Cut It Loose- Washington has nothing to lose in this game, playing the best team in college football they need to cut it loose and unleash everything they’ve got. They need to let Jake Browning take some shots deep with John Ross and Dante Pettis, and they need get Myles Gaskin going early to establish some play action and throws downfield. Chris Peterson has to be watching Florida’s first drive tape from the SEC Championship when they walked down the field and scored on Alabama.
Take Advantage of Alabama’s Injuries- Alabama has a lot of injuries in key places, but has four and five stars to plug those holes, however, some of the injured players are indispensable no matter the replacement. Washington has the players to take advantage of their injuries at corner, safety, and the offensive line. If they can exploit these match ups they’ll be in good position to pull off the upset.
Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban celebrates winning the trophy with his team after the SEC Championship college football game against the Florida Gators at Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Florida 54-16. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Washington’s a considerable underdog in this game, and nobody seems to be giving them a chance despite a 12-1 record and owning one of the most balanced and talented teams in the country.
Alabama’s dominance is overshadowing how good they were in Pac-12 play, but you can justify the massive line and favoritism.
Alabama does all of the things that killed Washington against USC, and they have the best front that they will face all season long. Alabama’s game and personnel in the trenches outmatches Washington’s, and they’ll be able to kill the running game and force Jake Browning into uncomfortable situations.
Washington has not seen a front this good since they lost to USC, and judging from what Colorado was able to do to Browning, Alabama could have a field day. Washington will pull out all of the tricks in their bag and at the end of the day fall short in a game that’s closer than everyone thinks it will be.