The Huskies have done it. They navigated the Hype Highway all the way to the end and made it into the College Football Playoff. A dominant win over Colorado sealed the deal for them and they have the privilege to play what most consider the best team in college football right now in Alabama. Play the best to be the best. Alabama is favored by two touchdowns in the opening line for the Peach Bowl against Washington. Let's take a quick preview look at what this matchup will look like.
Alabama is the juggernaut in college football. They are fundamentally sound almost across the board. The offense is explosive and their defense is punishing. They have the defensive Nagurski award winner in Jonathan Allen. A mobile playmaking quarterback in Jalen Hurts who is nearing 1,000 yards rushing and over 2,500 yards passing for the season can beat you through the air or ground. Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Joshua Jacobs have combined for over 2,000 yards rushing this season. Ardarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley are both top tier receivers with Ridley likely a 1st round draft pick in the future. O.J. Howard is also a reliable target and top tight end prospect. Then switching back to defense, Alabama has a wrecking crew of linebackers with Reuben Foster leading the pack with nearly 100 tackles for the year and Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson combined with Foster responsible for over 20 sacks this year. Additonally, Minkah Fitzpatrick has 5 interceptions with two returned for touchdowns this year. The lofty stats go on and on for this crew. Alabama has destroyed opponents this year allowing only 6 plays to pass the 10-yard line in over 2 months of play in October and November.
So it seems Alabama is invincible or are they? The one game that stands out is early in the year against Ole Miss. Chad Kelly threw for over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns. At one point in the second quarter Ole Miss was up by 21 points before Alabama came roaring back to take the lead in second half. What this tells us is Alabama may be susceptible to an effective air attack. The other chink in the Crimson Tide's armor is there mediocre turnover margin of +5 for the year. Though they have recovered plenty of fumbles and made some clutch interceptions, Alabama has had their fair share of games where they lost the turnover margin (but still won easily). Against teams they are blowing out it has not mattered, but if a game is close that might be enough to take down the giant.
Washington has the tools to attack Alabama's secondary through the air. Jake Browning has looked stellar most of the year except for the USC and Colorado game. If he can put those two games behind him and summon his top performance he has the receiver talent capable of beating Alabama. John Ross and Dante Pettis are arguably as good or even slightly better pair of receivers than Alabama's Ridley and Stewart. Ross could be the top receiver in the NFL draft this year. Is this enough to beat Alabama. Not on it's own. Washington's defense might not have the big names of Allen and Foster but they have held their own throughout the year and were the best in the Pac-12 after demolishing Colorado. Though the Huskies have lost two of their best defenders in Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis, the backups have stepped up and others have shined in their place such as freshman safety Taylor Rapp who had two interceptions against Colorado. If this defense can get after Hurts and force him to make mistakes the Huskies could capitalize with good field position and make this a close game and even upset the heavy favorite Alabama.
Now getting back to reality, Browning looked awful against an aggressive pass rush and superior secondary of Colorado. Though Alabama's secondary may not be as good as Colorado's, the pass rush is better for the Tide and Browning will find himself under constant pressure. If Browning can not get the ball out fast to his receivers he is going to be in big trouble. Alabama's rush defense is stifling holding their opponents to an average of only 63 yards per game total and 2 yards per carry. Even with talented backs like Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin it will be difficult to try to get the kind of yards they were able to achieve against Colorado in the Pac-12 championship. That does not mean they won't try but they are unlikely to succeed. This is where Chris Petersen may need to go to the old bag of tricks to get a leg up on Alabama. The Dante Pettis flea flicker has been quite effective this year so I imagine we will see at least one of those. I doubt we will see the wildcat run as much as we saw versus Colorado. If Washington wants to win they will need to replicate the defensive effort of LSU who held Alabama to 10 points combined with the offensive effort of Ole Miss pass game who put up over 400 yards through the air. If Washington can summon the strength to defend the run, contain Jalen Hurts and get the ball down the field they have a shot. If they can force Alabama to make mistakes and turn the ball over without giving up any themselves the Huskies may even have a good shot at winning and moving on to the National Championship Game in Tampa.
First Preview Husky Hype Prediction: Huskies win the Peach Bowl 24-21