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SQ College Football Playoff Semifinal Preview: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The first of the National Semifinals appears to be a one-sided affair, but Washington should make it a closer game than most think.

The 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl features the #4 Washington Huskies taking on the undefeated and #1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the first of the two national semifinals. The game will take place in Atlanta on Dec. 31 at 3 PM Eastern time and can be seen on ESPN

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Chris Petersen In the Underdog Role Again:

The first time the country really paid attention to Chris Petersen was in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, after he orchestrated Boise State’s miracle upset of Oklahoma by dialing up three perfect trick plays.

The underdog position is something Petersen is very comfortable with; nearly every season when he was the coach at Boise State, he scheduled, and beat, at least one ranked team including Georgia, Oregon, and Virginia Tech. This season, Stanford came in as the consensus Pac-12 North favorite, a debate Washington quickly settled with a convincing 44-6 victory. So although Alabama, a 14-point favorite, is a different beast entirely, and a different challenge than Petersen has ever faced before, he may just be the perfect coach for the job.

Undefeated Champion?

Two times an undefeated team has entered the Playoff and zero times have they emerged unscathed. Alabama looks to become the first undefeated team to run the table in the (short) Playoff era. Thus far, they have not shown any of the vulnerabilities that the 2014 Florida State or 2015 Clemson team showed, and no team appears to be on the same level as Alabama. However, Washington is a team unlike any that Alabama has faced all season and will provide their stiffest test yet.

Just Getting Their Feet Wet?

With one of the youngest teams in the country and another top-20 recruiting class coming in next season, this could be just the first of many times Washington finds themselves in the College Football Playoff in the years to come. While many other teams are finding themselves without their star players who are preparing for the draft, Washington doesn’t have to worry about that as their two offensive stars, quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, are sophomores and aren’t even draft eligible. Regardless of the outcome of the game this year, Browning and co. will certainly benefit next season from any experience they gain in this game.

Key Stats

1 - Only one time this season did Jake Browning throw fewer than two touchdown passes. That one game in which he threw one touchdown also happened to be their lone loss on the season. Washington prides itself on having a balanced offense, with Myles Gaskin (1,339 yards, 10 TDs) and Lavon Coleman (836 yards, seven TDs) carrying the running game. However, Alabama has the most dominant front seven in the country, and so Washington will rely heavily on Jake Browning to carry the offense.

45 - Alabama ranks fourth in the nation with 45 sacks on the season, or just over three per game. Washington as a team has only given up 21 sacks, just over 1.5 per game. Much of the talk leading up to this game has been about whether Washington’s offensive line can hold up long enough under pressure to give Browning time to throw. It will certainly be a tall task to contain the likes of Jonathan Allen (8.5 sacks), Tim Williams (8.5 sacks), and Ryan Anderson (7.5 sacks) among others. 

4 - Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts has rushed for over 100 yards four times this season. Washington has been great against the rush overall on the season, yielding only 3.46 yards per rush. However, the one time they faced a true dual-threat quarterback, they gave up 176 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns to Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins. This was a game that took Washington overtime to win against the same Arizona team that went 1-8 in Pac-12 play. If Hurts can get loose, Washington will be in trouble.

Key Players

John Ross, WR/KR/PR, Washington - In order to beat Alabama, it will take a complete team effort, but Washington’s most dynamic player Joe Ross will certainly need to have a great game if they hope to win. 


Ross is a quintessential deep threat with blazing speed, but is also a great route runner and Browning’s favorite red zone target as evidenced by his 17 receiving TDs. To get the ball in his hands more, Washington also has him returning kicks. Ross has four kickoff return touchdowns in his career, so he is certainly a threat for a momentum-changing play. 

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama -  Howard burst onto the scene last year during the Championship game with a 208 yard, two-TD performance. 

If you haven’t watched an Alabama game since then, you really haven’t missed anything from Howard. At 6‘6”, 251 lbs, Howard has prototypical NFL size, but he hasn’t done himself any favors in terms of improving his draft stock. This season, he has zero games of over 80 receiving yards and only two total touchdowns. However, one of the few weaknesses of this Washington defense has been covering tight ends, so Alabama and O.J. Howard will certainly look to exploit that.

Why Washington Wins

Not many people are giving Washington much of a chance at all in this game. Alabama has only played one game this season decided by single digits, and the last National Semifinal they played in, well to say it didn’t end so well for the opposition would be a massive understatement. Yet, this Washington team is different from any other team Alabama has faced this season. Max Browne, Chad Kelly, Austin Allen, Joshua Dobbs, Trevor Knight, Danny Etling, Jeremy Johnson, and Austin Appleby. That is an underwhelming list of quarterbacks of ranked teams that Alabama has faced this season. The only one of that group that even begins to stand out is Chad Kelly, and he managed to put up 43 points on Alabama and gave Alabama their closest game of the season, a five-point victory. With one of the best pocket passers in the nation in Jake Browning, an explosive backfield led by Myles Gaskin, and a solid receiving corps, Washington is by far the most talented and balanced offense Alabama has faced all season. 

On the other side of the ball, Washington’s defense is arguably the strength of the program. The most points they gave up in a game all season is 28 and they haven’t given up more than 20 since the beginning of November to Cal (a game where they put up 66 themselves). Add in dangerous kick and punt return games and a dependable kicker, and you have a team with very few weaknesses to exploit that may just be able to pull a magical upset over Alabama.

Why Alabama Wins

Alabama is the most talented team in the nation. They can beat you in so many different ways. Jalen Hurts is by no means the best passer in the nation, but he rarely makes bad decisions with the football, as evidenced by only nine interceptions on the season. The Crimson Tide have a bevy of different skill position players who can hurt you, with four different players over 500 yards rushing, six different players over 500 yards receiving, and 12 different players with an offensive touchdown. 

Their dominant defense is well-documented. This season, Alabama returned five punts, five fumbles, and four kicks for touchdowns. 


When your defense matches the other team’s offense in terms of scoring, you only need a competent offense in order to win most games, and Alabama certainly has a competent offense. Nick Saban never overlooks any opponent, so you can be sure the Crimson Tide will not be looking past the Huskies to a potential rematch with either Clemson or Ohio State. If Alabama plays the football we all know they are capable of, they will have no trouble with Washington.

Prediction

Alabama has proven all season that they are on a different level than all other teams. They have five-star recruits at every single position on the field and one of the greatest coaches of all time in Nick Saban. Simply put, Alabama is better than every team they face. Of course, this doesn’t mean they will win every game, and Washington is a much better team than most people give them credit for. As it should be, this game will be Alabama’s toughest test on the season, but they can always rely on their defense to come through in the clutch.

Alabama Wins 27 - 20

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

SQuiz
Who won the 2015 Peach Bowl?
Created 12/27/16
  1. Houston
  2. Florida State
  3. TCU
  4. Texas A&M

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