Battered and buried for four quarters beneath a wave of violent crimson, the Washington Huskies saw their season end here on Saturday afternoon.
In many ways, it felt inevitable, Alabama’s unbeaten machine flattening one the nation’s most efficient offenses in ways nobody else could, at least not this season.
But then, there is nobody else like Alabama.
The Crimson Tide – the nation’s No. 1 team, the nation’s No. 1 defense, the nation’s foremost producer of NFL talent – showed No. 4 Washington precisely why nobody expected the Huskies to be particularly competitive in this College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl.
Alabama won, 24-7, an admirable effort by Washington’s defense overshadowed by a Crimson Tide defense so fast, so strong, so unrelenting that it rendered the Huskies’ offense inept.
The Huskies – champions of the Pac-12 for the first time since 2000 – finish this still-charmed season with a 12-2 record. Alabama advances to next Monday’s (Jan. 9) national championship game in Tampa, against the winner of tonight’s other semifinal between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State.
The start wasn’t so bad for Washington. Quarterback Jake Browning led the Huskies on an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive on their second possession, a perfect throw to Dante Pettis for a 16-yard touchdown giving UW a 7-0 lead.
That drive featured a 13-yard scramble by Browning on third down, followed by a 20-yard screen pass to tailback Myles Gaskin. On both plays, UW used Alabama’s aggression to its advantage.
Such glory was short lived. After Alabama ripped down the field for a quick scoring drive — the Tide went up-tempo, and tailback Bo Scarbrough ran in for an 18-yard touchdown — the Huskies gave the ball back to them when receiver John Ross fumbled, and Alabama recovered and returned to UW’s 40.
The Huskies held the Tide to a field goal on that drive, but Ross’ fumble marked the beginning of a disastrous offensive trend. They went three-and-out on their next possession, losing eight yards. They went three-and-out again, gaining three yards. They went three-and-out again, gaining zero yards.
And with a little more than a minute left in the first half, UW still trailing 10-7 thanks to mostly stellar play by its defense, Browning made the kind of mistake that he absolutely had to avoid.
On second and 10 from UW’s 32-yard line, UW’s sophomore quarterback saw an Alabama defender in his face. Rather than take the sack, he floated a desperate throw toward the right sideline, and it was intercepted and returned 26 yards for a touchdown by Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson.
The Tide’s 10-point lead felt insurmountable, even as Washington’s defense forced punt after punt after punt — just as Alabama did to UW’s offense, which gained only 10 yards on 11 plays in the third quarter.
Then, the decisive blow: Bo Scarbrough, the bruising Alabama tailback who rushed for 180 yards, weaved his way for a 68-yard touchdown run with 11:56 left in the game to put the Tide ahead by three scores. Scarbrough had extended that drive three plays prior with a crucial, 12-yard run up the middle on 3rd-and-9 from Alabama’s 3-yard line.
Would it have made a difference if the Huskies stopped him? Probably not. They managed only 194 yards of total offense, only 2.9 yards per play, only 1.5 yards per rush. They allowed four sacks.
Browning completed 20-of-38 passes for 150 yards, rarely finding time to throw the ball further than 10 yards down field. Even when he had decent protection, Alabama’s defensive backs covered UW’s receivers so well that Browning often had to settle for throwing the ball out of bounds.
Washington’s defense showed up, too, limiting Alabama to a single offensive touchdown in the first half, hassling quarterback Jalen Hurts into an unimpressive stat line of 7-for-14 passing and just 57 yards. The Huskies had three sacks. They had eight tackles for loss. They have an outstanding defense, and they played that way.
They just didn’t play like Alabama.