ATLANTA – Almost all who have been paying attention classify the 2016 Alabama defense as one of the best ever Crimson Tide stop units. Many go further, saying it is the best Bama defense ever. You don’t have to convince Washington of it.
Example: watching tape of Bama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen hurdle a Texas A&M blocker, fly through the air like Superman, and sack Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight. It opened film room eyes in Seattle.
“It’s impressive; something you don’t see every day,” said Washington offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp. “We watched it as a group (in the o-line room). We had to watch it again a couple of times to make sure we were watching it right. It was a pretty impressive play.
“It’s not every day you see a big guy like (Allen) making plays like that.”
Alabama and Washington are in Atlanta finishing up preparation for the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. EST (2 Central, noon Pacific), and it’s a College Football Playoff semifinal game between the top seed Crimson Tide (13-0) and the No. 4 Huskies (12-1).
Eldrenkamp is impressed by the Tide’s front seven as a whole. When asked for a comparison, he didn’t mention USC, but another conference opponent. “On most of the film I’ve seen, I see some similarities with Colorado’s front,” he said. “Also our front seven that we face in practice every day.”
Despite the midseason injury to safety Eddie Jackson, Washington’s offensive players seem to see an Alabama secondary that is rounding into shape for the CFP. Asked specifically about Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Huskies receiver John Ross called them “very good players, probably with NFL talent. I think they’re really good, really solid players.
“(From Humphrey), I see the physicality piece, and decent transition. He’s pretty good. I’m going to love the matchup. It should be fun.”
On Fitzpatrick and his transition from nickel to safety, Ross said it comes down to coaching and preparation. “You can tell how hard those guys work, and how well those guys prepare,” he said. “To see that, that means they’ve been doing a good job over there. We’ve all got to put it together on Saturday.
“I think we have a unique offense, and a unique scheme. We have good players at every position. I just think it’s going to take us to put everything we have together, not have a bad game, and just have confidence in ourselves, and in each other, and I think we’ll have a really good game.”
Ross has caught 76 balls for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016.
Running back Myles Gaskin, a first team Pac-12 performer, said of Tide linebacker Reuben Foster, “He’s fast; he’s a smart football player. He knows how to get off blocks. He knows how to play, so he’s definitely the best linebacker that I’ve seen, and I think anybody on our team has seen.
“They have the best front seven we’ve ever played against. I can easily say that. They’re just a smart team. They know how to play ball. I can’t really sum it up any other type of way. They’re fast, and they just know how to play football. They’re all trying to get to the ball. Respect to that, but we’re going to have to play our type of game.”
Gaskin has 1,339 yards on 227 carries with 14 touchdowns this season.
Said sophomore quarterback Jake Browning: “I think Alabama has a great defense. For me personally, it's an opportunity to go against very good defense. Obviously very talented. Obviously, won a lot of awards all over the place for a lot of their players.
“They've got a lot of All-Americans, highly recruited guys too. So for me, it's an opportunity to go against what I think are some of the best players and one of the best teams that has kind of run college football for a while. So, you know, it's a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”
Browning has completed 223-of-353 passes for 3,280 yards, 42 touchdowns and but seven picks. He was a finalist for the 2016 Manning Award.
Huskies Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith knows his troops face a huge challenge Saturday. He’s impressed with the front seven of Bama, but also the back end. “I see they've got good ball skills,” he said of film study of the Tide secondary. “They can change direction, obviously got a bunch of turnovers and create havoc there. And that secondary's been solid for those guys for a long time.
“This is a group defense that from the front end to the back end, they help each other out and create some havoc. They can get you in some long yardage situations and that makes it tough. That's really when that secondary does its job.
“We're going to have to be good, get some good gains on first and second downs, staying out of third and long, because that secondary, like I say, goes back to those ball skills and they can change direction. They can put some offenses in bad situations.”
The older Washington players who remember former Huskies head coach and future Bama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian seem happy to see the progress on and off the field made by their former mentor.
“I think it’s very difficult just to see anyone you know, that you’ve been close with, to ‘fall off’ like that,” said Ross “It’s never good, but my grandmother is always telling me, ‘There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’ When you see (Sarkisian) bounce back like that, that’s awesome to see.”
Alabama’s punter, JK Scott, has also caught the Huskies eye with his 47.7 yard average. “That guy BOOMS the ball,” said Washington return specialist Dante Pettis. “He kicks it 55 yards. He’s got a pretty good leg. They have good guys on the punt coverage team, and they have athletes in every aspect of the game. It’s up to our guys up front blocking for me to hold them down so I can get a little bit of space.”
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Pettis said Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky (48.0 average) is the only man he’s seen who's better than Scott. Pettis has returned 23 punts for a 12.3 average and two scores this season. At receiver, he has 50 grabs for 796 yards and 14 touchdowns.