College Football Playoff Preview: Alabama vs. Washington

Does Washington stand a chance against defending national champion Alabama?

If you were picking College Football Playoff match-ups based on the states’ respective populations being polar opposites of one another, you might think we’d get no different fantasy result than in real life. Washington and Alabama are a contrast in just about everything, including football teams.

Varying opinions exist on whether or not Washington can keep up with an Alabama team that’s being bandied about as one of the best in college football history. The Pac-12 champs are somewhat of a surprising story to get to this point, winning what was probably a lesser conference than in recent years.

Alabama, meanwhile, steamrolled through their own, lesser than the normally strong SEC, and bulldozed everything in its path on the way. The reality is, both teams can win this thing, as Washington represents several things the Crimson Tide simply haven’t seen this year, and vice versa.

Washington will win if …

For one, they can get in the red zone. The Huskies boast an impressive 93 percent scoring rate inside the opponent 20, including a 75 percent touchdown rate. Conversely, they’re 18th in the country in red zone defense, as they only allow opponent scores in that area 76 percent of the time.

It’s cliche to say that “turnovers will be huge.” Your mother can come up with that analysis pretty easily. But an already big deal is bigger with the Huskies, who lead the nation in both turnovers forced and turnover margin. They have a 1.3 better turnover margin than Alabama.

And as good as Alabama’s defense is, you’d be remiss to not point out that they haven’t seen anything the likes of Jake Browning, top five in the country in passing efficiency and second in the country in passing touchdowns with 42. Washington without question cannot be scared to test the mighty Alabama defense, particularly with short throws. A good model to look at would be the SEC title game early on, when the Gators would have been controlling the game if they could complete basic passes you can connect on to your old man in the backyard when you’re a tween.

Washington should have confidence. They have a massive defensive line, ironically, bigger as a starting unit than any in the SEC, having two 320-plus pounders who can move. But the key area that will probably make or break the game is yet another that your mother could come up with (even if your mother watches no football): third downs.

The Crimson Tide are a sterling 14th-best in the country in third down conversions. The Huskies give up only 30 percent of opponent third downs, good for top 10 in the nation. It may be cliche city in this one, but that’s how cliches develop, I suppose.

Alabama will win if …

Contrary to popular belief, the answer isn’t “if they get off the bus upright and 98 degrees.” There are things Washington does well that the Tide simply haven’t seen. But let’s be honest — Washington hasn’t seen anything close to this defense.

The Tide are tops in the country in rushing defense, the only team in the nation that didn’t allow at least 1,000 yards rushing over the course of the SEASON. The next best was Wisconsin, who let by almost 400 yards rushing more than the Tide. Alabama also allowed all of three rushing scores all year long. A look back at Washington’s lone loss to Southern California shows that the Huskies were only able to gain four first downs via the ground game, lowest of the season. Those two things seem to make a big difference.

Also, football turnovers derail the Tide about as much as apple ones do. They’re 5-0 when losing the turnover battle, somewhat of a remarkable statistic considering you play only 13 games. The kicker is what the Tide do with turnovers when they get them. Alabama ranks tops in the country in defensive touchdowns, with 10.

Washington’s lone loss saw them give up two turnovers and gain two, making their nation leading 1.6 turnover margin per game break even for the USC affair. Browning tends not to make a ton of mistakes, though with a running game held in check, the potential is certainly there. So if Alabama stops the run and puts Washington in the position to force passes, it could get ugly and those interceptions could get back to the house.

Lastly, assuming Washington tries to make quarterback Jalen Hurts a passer rather than letting him scamper around their ultra fast defense, the offensive line will have to hold up well against what’s an underrated Washington defense. It’s not one you hear about much, but they know how to make plays, as evidenced by their nation-leading turnover margin.

Common Opponents: Southern California

Alabama, W, 52-6
Washington, L, 13-28

Prediction:

Alabama finds itself able to shut down the Washington run and make them one-dimensional enough to keep Browning and company from scoring their usual fare or anything close to it. Washington wins the turnover battle, but simply can’t make enough plays against the Bama defense through a predictable passing game.

Crimson Tide 27, Huskies 19

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