By Zach Walker
#4 Washington Huskies vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Saturday – December 31 – 2:00 pm
Georgia Dome – Atlanta – Georgia
Records Before the Game
#4 Washington Huskies (12-1 PAC-12)
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0 SEC)
How did these teams get here?
Washington looked like the best PAC-12 team for the entire length of the college football regular season, though they got taken for a few good rides. They had an epic duel at Utah, where the special teams came in clutch for the Huskies, and after a home loss to an emerging USC Trojans’ team, the Huskies have hung forty points on their final three opponents while holding them to under twenty points each game. The Alabama story is one of power. They started their season at AT&T Stadium, tossing the Trojans aside, then with a slight bump from a few opponents, rolled right through their regular season schedule. Ole Miss gave them a game, Arkansas did too, and the LSU game was just a “swords and pikes” battle in Death Valley, but the Tide just kept coming in.
Keys for each team
#4 Washington Huskies – Though they are the underdog, they have the fire power at key spots to break the Tide. This game is going to feature a ton of NFL players, some for this coming draft, some down the line, and the Huskies bring a lot to the battle. On offense, their top prospect is the five-foot eleven inch deep threat playmaker John Ross, who could seriously be a sleeved ace for Washington. He’s got the tools, the talent, and most importantly, he finds his way into the endzone, leaving epic wake behind him. On defense, Elijah Qualls at defensive tackle is a solid prospect for this April. Azeem Victor is going to need to be 135% dialed in on Friday, and keep the Alabama quarterback and the ball in his crosshairs. The Huskies’ secondary is the money fruit. Sidney Jones is a first rounder in this April’s draft, Kevin King across from him might be a few rounds behind him, and the safety Budda Baker is going to draw both a whole lot of attention and a pretty game-changing matchup.
However, we all know who and what this boils down to. Can Jake Browning beat the Crimson Tide? I say he can. He’s eighth in the nation in yards per attempt (9.3), boasts a tasty 63.2 completion percentage and will be a Heisman frontrunner next year, his junior season where he’s likely to be among the top eligible draft quarterbacks. But, it’s not his arm that has to do the work here. It’s how he has his feet, that’ll be the deciding factor. Last season, DeShawn Watson game the Tide hell with his mobility that matched his arm. This season, Chad Kelly, more of the same story. Jake Browning is the best quarterback that Alabama will have faced this season, and if he can get his legs to extend plays for the Huskies and find John Ross getting deep behind some of the Tide defenders, this game could look like a hell of a game.
1. UW Cannot ditch the run. The Trojans shackled the Huskies to a .6 yards per attempt total in their lone loss of the season. Now the Tide is just as stingy (about 2 yards per), but allowing the Tide to pin their ears back and let the hits on Browning stack up is exactly what Alabama is going to try and do.
2. Budda Baker must win. Baker is going to face OJ Howard, a first round caliber tight end, and he cannot allow Howard to shell him off and get free in the open field.
3. Jake Browning must extend plays. The Alabama defense is sick, and they will consume Browning for a snack, unless Browning can use his lower half and improvise to keep his team in the game.
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide – ‘Bama is sick, just a gross surplus of soon to be Sunday-ers. Position by position they’re built for these games. If we’re being honest, the Tide have five potential first rounders in this game, and that’s just the day one guys. There could be eleven players drafted in the first rounds from this team, in this April’s draft. I love tight end mismatches, and OJ Howard is a super X-Factor. Cam Robinson is a top-five pick and will be the first offensive lineman to have his named called. Then the defense. Jonathan Allen, top DT prospect. Tim Williams, Courtney Upshaw-type. Reuben Foster, in the mold of CJ Mosley. Marlon Humphrey, a redshirt-sophomore, could be the first corner tabbed in April. And they have been without possibly their best member of their secondary since the Aggies’ game, in safety Eddie Jackson. These ‘Bama squads are prepped-built-shipped for the NFL draft.
They are marveling, however, on their potential three-year signal caller in Jalen Hurns. He’s an ace within Lane Kiffin’s R-P-O offense, run/pass offense. It just sounds better than saying “read-option” but Hurns has the sauce to leave Washington chasing a ghost. He’s thirteenth in the nation in completion percentage (65.5).
1. Play their way. The Alabama defense has scored ten times this season. Five pick-sixes. Five scoop-and-scores. They need to force the Huskies into nervous situations, and get after Browning and get that ball on their side. The way Alabama wins is their defensive pursuit. The players hunt the play down, and if the ball touches turf, it won’t bounce twice before a Crimson clad player hops on it.
2. Turn Hurns loose. Pretty straight forward, let Hurns rip those RPOs for all they’re worth.
3. Be the top dog. With this much talent, if they flexed, they could open the flood gates on a team.
Alabama 31 – Washington 24
Last I checked, the Tide was favored by 15.5 points. I say suckers bet. The Huskies should be in this game, they have earned their spot, and though it’ll take a lot of factors to break UW’s way to win, no way would I bet a two touchdown spread.