The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal game between Washington and Alabama will kick off this afternoon at 3:00 pm EST. This is the first of the two semifinal matchups that will determine who plays in the College Football Playoff Final on January 9th. Alabama comes into this game heavily favored, with Vegas lines giving them about a 14 point advantage at the time of this article. Alabama has looked invincible all season long, crushing the majority of their opponents in the best conference in the country, the SEC. Washington, on the other hand, comes into this game as somewhat of a surprise story. Coach Chris Peterson has led the Huskies to a 12-1 record and Pac-12 title, bringing some of the magic that made his Boise State teams famous in the past. Although Washington is a clear underdog, don’t expect them to play like it, especially with Peterson’s past experience in big games with Boise State where he has pulled off multiple trick plays and upset heavy favorites, like his “Statue of Liberty” play to win the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against favored Oklahoma.
Stats that Matter
Total Offense – 21st in Nation – 477.2 YPG
Total Defense – 11th in Nation – 316.2 YPG
Scoring Offense – 4th in Nation – 44.5 PPG
Scoring Defense – 7th in Nation – Allowing 17.2 PPG
Turnover Margin – 1st in Nation – +21
- Washington boasts a prolific offense, averaging 44.5 points per game behind an explosive air attack featuring one-time Heisman hopeful Quarterback Jake Browning and lightning-quick receiver John Ross. Runningback Myles Gaskin has also had a terrific season. What stands out above is Washington’s turnover margin, which is first in the nation at +21. They protect the ball on offense and force turnovers on defense, something they will have to do to have a chance against Alabama. On defense, a unit which has arguably been just as dominant as the offense, they are led by Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls on the defensive line, with Sidney Jones and Kevin King forming an elite cornerback tandem on the back end.
Players to Watch
Jake Browning – QB
- Browning has had a fantastic season at quarterback, racking up 3280 yards and 42 touchdowns, to only 7 interceptions. Browning will be one of, if not the best, quarterbacks Alabama has faced this season. He will be the biggest key for Washington to have a chance, and his mobility could be the attribute that is most important. Over the years, mobile passers, like Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton have given Alabama the most trouble on defense. While Browning is not as prone to scrambling and looking to his legs as these two, he is very athletic and mobile in the pocket, and could have to make some plays with his legs to extend drives and keep Alabama honest. Browning will need to play a flawless game to give Washington a shot.
John Ross – WR
- Ross has blazing speed, and is also a dynamic return man in addition to his receiving abilities. Ross will need to win some tough battles with Alabama’s elite corners, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who have shut down most opposing receivers this season. Ross will have the advantage in speed, as he was clocked at a blistering 4.25 40-yard dash at Washington practice before this season started. However, Ross is not a 1st round NFL draft talent for just his speed, as he has made tough catches in traffic and won jump balls numerous times this season. His impact in the game could also come as a return man, where he will have a chance to give Washington better field position and possibly shift momentum with a big return or two.
- Alabama’s defense is formidable as a whole, but what really makes it dominant is its defensive line. Washington’s offensive line will have their hands full with the athleticism and strength of Jonathan Allen and company. For them to compete in the game, they will need to give Jake Browning time and open some holes for the running game to keep Alabama’s linebackers and safeties honest. If they get dominated, Washington will have an even steeper uphill battle.
Vita Vea – DT
- Vea is regarded as a second round NFL draft talent, and his play on the defensive line will be important not only for his draft stock, but for the Washington defense in slowing down Alabama’s underrated offense. Vea has 4 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss this season as a defensive tackle, which is extremely impressive. His ability to get into the backfield to stop quarterback Jalen Hurts and runningback Damien Harris will be key to containing the Alabama offense.
Sidney Jones – CB
- Jones is expected to be a first round NFL draft pick, and his shutdown corner play will be needed to stop ArDarius Stewart’s big play ability. Jones has 6 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles on the season. The stats do not tell the whole story, however, as Jones is rarely targeted by opposing quarterbacks. ArDarius Stewart has been a game-changer at wide receiver this year for Alabama, and it is likely that he will be matched up on Jones often in this game. Jones must slow him down to keep Alabama’s offense from the big plays they have used to pull away from opponents this season.
Stats that Matter
Total Offense – 26th in Nation – 471.3 YPG
Total Defense – 1st in Nation – 247.8 YPG
Scoring Offense – 13th in Nation – 40.5 PPG
Scoring Defense – 1st in Nation – Allowing 11.8 PPG
Turnover Margin – 33rd in Nation – +5
- As you can see, Alabama relies on its defense to suffocate opponents and put as little pressure as possible on its young offense to score points and win the game. The defense is historic, allowing 11.8 points per game and only 247.8 yards per game. In the SEC Conference Championship game, Florida was held to 0 rushing yards, an amazing feat for any defense. The defense will be counted on to slow Washington’s dynamic offense and allow their underrated offense to score points without too much pressure. An uncharacteristic stat shown above is Alabama’s turnover margin, which is only +5. Usually, Nick Saban teams rank at or near the top in this category, as the quarterback usually takes care of the football and the defense wreaks havoc on the other team, forcing turnovers and dominating games. This season, freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has taken care of the football relatively well, throwing only 9 interceptions thus far, but the team has 10 fumbles, 5 of which come from Hurts. He has had a fumbling problem this season, which is something to keep an eye on for the freshman in the big spotlight.
Players to Watch
Jalen Hurts – QB
- The freshman quarterback will be under his biggest spotlight to date, and his ability to handle the pressure of this game might be the most important factor for Alabama. If he plays smart football and is mostly a game manager, Alabama should win this game if their defense plays to their expectations and they break a big play or two on offense. However, if the stage gets to him, his fumbling problem could come back to haunt him and the Crimson Tide would be prime for an upset. His legs will be a large factor, as his ability to run has provided numerous big plays for the Alabama offense and could allow him to gain a rhythm on offense if he runs the ball a few times before being asked to pass against Washington’s talented secondary.
ArDarius Stewart – WR
- Stewart has been Alabama’s big play receiver this season, with 52 receptions for 852 yards and 8 touchdowns. He is averaging 16.4 yards per catch, showing his explosive playmaking ability. He will be matched up with Washington’s shutdown corners, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. If he has a long touchdown reception that demoralizes the Washington secondary, it could go a long way for Alabama’s offense in giving quarterback Jalen Hurts the confidence he needs to play well on this big stage.
Cam Robinson – OT
- Robinson is a projected top 10 overall pick in the NFL draft, and his play on the Alabama Offensive line will set the tone for the offense in attacking the talented Washington defensive line. Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls are both defensive tackles, so they won’t be lined up on Robinson, but his ability to protect Hurts and pave the way for the Alabama rushing attack will be key to facilitate long drives and keep Hurts from turning the ball over.
Jonathan Allen – DE
- Allen is the definition of a game-wrecker, as he has been the most disruptive force in college football on defense this season. He is ranked by numerous scouting services as the top overall player in college football, and he is capable of changing the game all by himself. On the season, he has 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries (both for touchdowns), 2 pass deflections, and a blocked kick. He is a nightmare for opposing offenses, and could give the Washington offensive line fits throughout this game. If he is able to get loose and disrupt Jake Browning, this game could be over quickly. Allen is key to the Alabama defense’s success and what kind of game he has will have a large impact on the outcome.
Reuben Foster – MLB
- Foster is yet another projected first round NFL draft pick, and is recognized as the top Middle Linebacker in College Football. Foster is both stout against the run and able to defend the pass, a rarity for middle linebackers. He has 94 tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 tackles for loss and 2 pass deflections this season. His presence in the middle of the field is intimidating for opposing offenses, as he can impact both the passing and running game. Foster is also capable of changing the game by himself, like Jonathan Allen, and Washington have their hands full with the numerous defensive weapons Alabama will be able to throw at them.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Washington 24
- This is closer than most are anticipating, but I think Washington’s offense could come out strong and shock the Crimson Tide to start the game, with a Chris Peterson trick play or two thrown in there for good measure. Washington certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama, as Peterson has coached in games of this magnitude before and they have a somewhat experienced roster at their most important positions. Jake Browning and John Ross should be able to link up for some chunk plays as the game goes on and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the toughest game Alabama has played since its Week 3 victory over Ole Miss, 48-43. However, Alabama’s defense should be able to give Jalen Hurts enough opportunities to score and win the game, and I really don’t see Alabama losing to anybody at this point in the season. A well fought and entertaining game for sure, but an Alabama victory in the end.