Alabama will conclude practice in Tuscaloosa for the Peach Bowl early Thursday, allowing players to go home for a brief Christmas visit before reassembling on campus Monday and flying to Atlanta to complete preparations.
On Wednesday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “Practice has gone fairly well. Today the players had really good intensity, mental focus. For the most part, we have done a pretty good job in that regard. Yesterday was a little bit sloppy. I think when you practice seven days in a row… The reason we do that is because we want to condense the time that the players are here so they have a little bit more time off to be at home to spend with their families for Christmas.”
He said that the injury situation was good with tackle Cam Robinson and linebacker Keith Holcombe both returning to work. “We’ve got some guys that are nicked up, but nobody that couldn’t go out there and practice,” the coach said.
Mostly Saban wanted to talk about Washington, Alabama’s opponent in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome.
He noted the high expectations for Alabama football players as they move forward. “Some people can do that, some people can’t,” Saban said. “It’ll be interesting to see how our guys do it and how we can get them to do it. I think that’ll be a real key for how well we play in the game against a very, very good team.
“Every time I stand up here, I try to convince everybody what a great team Washington is. They're a very good football team on both sides of the ball. They're very well coached. They've got good schemes. They've got good players. This is going to be a real tough game for us. This is by far the best team we've played against all year long.”
No one should need convincing that Washington is a good team. The Huskies are 12-1, champions of the Pac-12, and ranked fourth in the nation. Nevertheless, Washington is generally considered a big underdog to Alabama, which is 13-0, champion of the Southeastern Conference, and ranked first in the nation. Moreover, Bama is making its third consecutive appearance in the three-year-old College Football Playoff and is coming off the 2015 national championship.
Alabama and Washington have played only four times previously. Although Bama has won all four, the history is not only slim, it also is close to ancient in football terms. The last meeting was in 1986 in the Sun Bowl.
Alabama is learning about this year’s Washington team primarily from watching videotape of the Huskies. Saban said, “You develop sort of a history of what they like to do, and you have that knowledge and experience and so do the players.
“I think when you play somebody that’s not a common opponent, that you’ve never played before, the film is the film. So there’s a lot more research that you do, but there’s a lot more to learn because you’re not starting from, ‘Okay, we’ve played these guys every other year for the last 10 years, we kind of know what they like to do.’ There’s none of that.
“So you’re teaching the players from scratch and you’re learning it from scratch. I think when you have extra time when you play in these kind of games when you play opponents that you haven’t played before, that’s probably helpful to the players.”
One thing that Saban has had plenty of video to look at is of Washington quarterback Jake Browning. Saban said, “He's a really good athlete, has quickness, has pocket presence, he extends a lot of plays, he can run. He's athletic enough to run. This guy is a really, really good player. He's accurate throwing the ball, gets the ball out of his hand quickly, and does a really good job of executing their offense. This will be one of the best quarterbacks we've played all year."