Dec. 30, 2016
Why Washington Will Beat Alabama -- With Ease
"We're not very pleased."
That was LSU then-interim coach Ed Orgeron after a 10-0 loss to #1 Alabama on November 5th that seemed to suck the life out of the team. It became pretty demoralizing, but after playing the Crimson Tide, not many teams come out of the game pleased with their performance.
This game was different, though. Many people (Lee Corso, Skip Bayless, and unfortunately myself) believed with conviction that the Tigers were physical enough and motivated enough to have a shot at taking down the boys from Tuscaloosa. Although the game was tightly contested, Alabama never found themselves in a halfway-nervous situation. The undefeated Tide surely do not have to worry about being overmatched, right? It seems as though their only threat is the Deshaun Watson-led Clemson Tigers that came within five points of beating them in last year's national championship, or possibly Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes.
Not so much.
The team that is being thrown to the wasteside, the team that most people cannot muster to watch because of their geographical placement, and the team that Alabama fans aren't worrying about, but probably should be are the Washington Huskies.
Maybe it's the (apparently) ultra-weak conference they play in, or the inadequate, meager, putrid amount of media coverage they have received throughout a miraculous year that brings back flashes of Don James and his dynamic quarterback duo that was Billy Joe Herbert and Mark Brunell. People and analysts are not giving Chris Petersen's squad the respect it deserves. Only after a win at Utah did the national media start giving UW some spotlight. Still, a spanking of rival Washington State and an utter beatdown of Colorado in the PAC-12 Championship have not been enough to stop normally-educated and well-read analysts and college football fans from automatically putting the Tide in the title game by virtue of record and name.
So, you're probably wondering if the Huskies even have the personnel to keep pace with Bama. The answer would be a definitive yes.
Let's start on the offense. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has played outstanding behind a gritty offensive line. His touchdown to interception ratio? 6:1. That is a marvelous mark. Against the Tide's stout and likely -legendary front seven, Browning will have to prove he can get the ball out quick, without making crucial mistakes. Here's a perfect example of Browning not panicking, making his read, and not letting the pass rush get to him.
If you fast forward to 0:52, you will see Browning in the shotgun, with a running back flanked to his left. Oregon brings two linebackers unexpectedly, but the young signal-caller does not panic. Myles Gaskin makes a key block, and knowing there is man-to-man coverage on the outside, Browning delivers a strike to the athletic, dynamic, and game-changing John Ross.
For just being a sophomore, the kid is calm and looks like a natural passer from the pocket. With a sturdy offensive line, reliable wideouts like Ross and Dante Pettis, plus a consistent running game led by Gaskin, coach Chris Petersen has set up Browning for nothing but success. Playing the Tide defense is definitely no facile task, but the pieces are there to find a few holes and exploit the Alabama secondary.
The Washington brand has always been on the defensive side of the ball, and nothing has changed this year. The Huskies' aggressive and well-coached defensive unit is first in the nation with 33 turnovers. The secondary, led by corner Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker will look to keep Calvin Ridley, OJ Howard, and lenghty ArDarius Stewart from getting down the field. One way to do that will be to bait freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts into miscalculated throws, as shown below.
Here in the 2015 Apple Cup, Jones is playing in zone coverage on the outside. Washington State's QB is progressing through his reads, and with a slight jump towards the inside receiver, Jones forces the quarterback to make an errant throw towards the sideline. Jones jumps the route and takes it to the house. Just one play similar to this could change the outlook -- and momentum -- of the game.
Despite missing their leading tackler in Azeem Victor, I believe Pete Kwiatkowski will coach up this young Husky defense to stop chunk plays by the Tide running game and contain Hurts on option plays that offensive coordiantor Lane Kiffin likes to run.
Washington's defense is made up of many pro-level talents that NFL scouts ooze over. As long as they play with discipline, and the offense can convert third downs to keep the Husky D well-rested, Alabama will not go on a scoring frenzy. Getting pressure on Hurts will be a demanding task against a potent o-line, but led by redshirt sophomore Vita Vea in the middle, Kwiatkowski should have opportunities to mix it up, bring the blitz, and disrupt Hurts in the pocket.
With all of this in mind, Alabama is still by far the better team, but UW is being overlooked mightily. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but I predict that Washington can handedly defeat the presumed favorite without a few wacky special teams (or pass-interference calls); instead with a few turnovers forced, solid QB play, and possibly a special teams score, the Huskies could make a surprise and unprecedented trip to Tampa while handing Nick Saban his first loss of the season. My prediction: A stunner in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, 27-17, Washington.