When the Washington Huskies take the field for Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta, the coach who recruited several of UW’s best players will be on the Crimson Tide sideline (or in the coach’s booth, more accurately).
Former UW head coach Steve Sarkisian is currently serving as an offensive analyst for Alabama, though he has been named the Crimson Tide’s next offensive coordinator and will assume that position once Lane Kiffin, Alabama’s current coordinator, departs after this season for his new job as head coach at Florida Atlantic.
And while UW’s ascension under third-year coach Chris Petersen might make the Sarkisian era at UW (2009-13) feel like a long time ago, the Huskies still have a handful of high-impact players – and 21 players total – who were recruited by Sarkisian and began their career when he was still the Huskies’ coach.
Here is a look at five of UW’s most important Sarkisian-recruited players:
5. Elijah Qualls, defensive lineman (R-Jr., Petaluma, Calif.)
Qualls spent most of 2015 at nose tackle, but his uncommon athleticism and quickness for his size – 6-1, 321 – allowed UW coaches to move him all over the defensive line this season. Qualls still played some nose tackle, played some defensive end and sometimes even stood up and rushed the quarterback from the edge. He has 32 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss, and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.
4. Keishawn Bierria, linebacker (R-Jr., Carson, Calif.)
A second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Bierria is third on the team with 63 tackles, has two sacks and four tackles for loss, and leads the nation in fumble recoveries with five. The two-year starter from Carson, California, emerged as one of UW’s top defenders last season, and only improved in 2016.
3. Kevin King, defensive back (Sr., Oakland, Calif.)
King was overlooked for conference honors, but led the team with 13 pass breakups and had two interceptions – including his one-handed, highlight-reel grab against Arizona State. A long, rangy cornerback, King was an essential player the past two seasons for one of the best groups of defensive backs in the country, and has played safety, cornerback and nickelback during his four-year career.
2. Azeem Victor, linebacker (R-Jr., Compton, Calif.)
How important was Victor to UW’s defense? He still leads the team in tackles with 67 despite missing the Huskies’ last three games due to a season-ending leg injury. Victor’s size (6-3, 230) and violent playing style made him an enforcer of sorts in the middle of UW’s defense, and he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection despite playing in only 10 games.
1. John Ross, wide receiver (R-Jr., Long Beach, Calif.)
It’s difficult to overstate the impact Ross had on Washington’s offense this season, his first since undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior-cruciate ligament. Ross not only caught 76 passes for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns – most by an FBS player this season – but his elite speed and playmaking ability help open up the field for everyone else.
OL Coleman Shelton (R-Jr., Pasadena, Calif.): UW’s most versatile offensive lineman, Shelton has played all five o-line positions and spent the entire 2016 season as the team’s starting center. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection.
OL Jake Eldrenkamp (R-Sr., Bellevue): Along with sophomore left tackle Trey Adams, Eldrenkamp this season became UW’s first first-team all-conference offensive lineman since 2001.
RB Lavon Coleman (R-Jr., Lompoc, Calif.): After playing a reserve role last season behind Myles Gaskin and Dwayne Washington, Coleman emerged as a strong complementary option this year and led all qualified Pac-12 players in yards per rush (7.81).
No. 1 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (13-0 overall, 8-0 in SEC)
12 P.M. SATURDAY, GEORGIA DOME, ESPN, 1000 AM/97.7 FM
COACH: Nick Saban (209-60 in 21st year overall; 118-18 in 10th year at Alabama)
AGAINST THE HUSKIES: Alabama leads the series 4-0.
SCOUTING REPORT: Alabama presents a challenge unlike any the Huskies have seen this season – or, perhaps, in any season in recent memory. The Crimson Tide are undefeated, spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in both major polls, and lead the country in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense. NFL prospects litter their roster. They are, in every way, the preeminent program in college football. … Defensively, Alabama is led by 6-3, 291-pound senior All-American lineman Jonathan Allen, winner of this year’s Bronco Nagurski award as the top defensive player in college football. He has 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss, plus 15 quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries. Reuben Foster, a junior linebacker and a first-team All-American, leads the team with 94 tackles, and has 12.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Minkah Fitzpatrick, an All-America cornerback, leads the team with five interceptions. … Alabama has scored 10 defensive touchdowns. … The Crimson Tide allow a remarkable 2.03 yards per rush, fewest in the nation by nearly a full yard over the second-best team (Houston at 2.91). … Opponents have scored only three rushing touchdowns against the Tide this season, and the Tide allow only 11.8 points per game. … True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts leads the offense. He won SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors after completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,592 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 841 yards and 12 touchdowns. … Alabama employs a trio of skilled running backs – Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Bo Scarbrough – who have combined to rush for 2,073 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Tide’s top receiver is ArDarius Stewart, a first-team All-SEC selection who has caught 852 yards and eight touchdowns. … Alabama also has a first-team All-American on its offensive line (junior tackle Cam Robinson). … Alabama’s offense isn’t as dominant as its defense, though the Tide still rank a healthy 19th nationally in yards per play, and they do average 40.5 points per game, which ranks 13th. … Alabama participated in each of the first two College Football Playoffs and won the national championship last season. The Tide have won 25 consecutive games dating to last season. Their last loss came on Sept. 19, 2015, a 43-37 defeat at home against Mississippi. … Alabama and Washington had one common opponent this season: the USC Trojans. Alabama thumped USC, 52-6, in its season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. USC beat UW, 26-13, at Husky Stadium on Nov. 12, the Huskies’ only loss this season.
DID YOU KNOW: Not only is ex-UW head coach Steve Sarkisian on Alabama’s staff as an analyst and slated to be the Tide’s next offensive coordinator, but former UW defensive line coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi is now Alabama’s outside linebackers coach. Lupoi was investigated by the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations committed during Sarkisian’s tenure as head coach, though the investigation did not lead to sanctions for UW or punishment for Lupoi.
Sept. 3 W, 52-6, vs. USC
Sept. 10 W, 38-10, vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 17 W, 48-43, at Mississippi
Sept. 24 W, 48-0, vs. Kent State
Oct. 1 W, 34-6, vs. Kentucky
Oct. 8 W, 49-30, at Arkansas
Oct. 15 W, 49-10, at Tennessee
Oct. 22 W, 33-14, vs. Texas A&M
Nov. 5 W, 10-0, at LSU
Nov. 12 W, 51-3, vs. Mississippi State
Nov. 19 W, 31-3, vs. Chattanooga
Nov. 26 W, 30-13, vs. Auburn
Dec. 3 W, 54-16, vs. Florida (SEC championship game)