ATLANTA – Going against a dynamic offense daily in practice helps, but the Washington defense knows it has its hands full Saturday against No. 1 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal game.
“Where do I start?” said Huskies Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski at Wednesday’s media briefing. “Quarterback? Their quarterback (Jalen Hurts) is very athletic. He breaks tackles. He’s got a strong arm. The o-line is very athletic and works well together. The running backs: they’ve got three of them (Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs) that they can rotate in so they’re fresh. (Scarbrough) comes in, and he’s a big old dude that can pound it. They’re running backs are big, strong guys that can get a good punch (in pass protection). A lot of what they do with those guys is play action to them, and the tight ends stay in and block and pass protect, so they can take their shots.
“The wide receivers are extremely fast and athletic. They can break it open. Alabama’s got a lot of things they can do.”
Three members of the Washington secondary have taken notice on film of Bama receivers Ardarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. A well-known safety also respects tight end O.J. Howard.
“I think (Howard’s) going to be a first round pick,” said junior safety Budda Baker, a first team All America. “He can run block. He can catch. He’s big. He’s 255. What stands out to me is there’s not a lot of tight ends that can block the way he does, catch the ball as well, and run after the catch.
“From 3 (Ridley) and 13 (Stewart) I see speed, quickness, they can get out of their breaks, they can get off press coverage, can catch the ball, and get yards after catch.”
Ridley and Stewart can be extra dangerous for a secondary when Hurts buys time with his feet and they break off their routes. Baker and his secondary mates have noticed. It’s hard not to.
“We’ve just got to stay on the routes, really,” Baker said. “We’ve got great corners. They’re going to have a tremendous challenge. Me as a nickel, playing a lot of man, (face) a tremendous challenge in the slot, whoever I’m going against, because (Stewart) and (Ridley) also go in the slot. For us, it’s just each play, taking it one at a time, trying to guard these guys.
“We play man a lot, so we take away the run/pass option, so most of the time, it’s going to be a run. We practice against (the RPO). We just have to be on that short pass quick, because we know what they can do when they have the ball in their hands.”
Defensive back Sidney Jones says the key when Hurts scrambles is “just staying with our guy throughout the remainder of the play. Plays are usually about three or four seconds. If it goes past that, it’s not normal. It’s not the average, but we just have to ‘plaster’ our guy and stay with him, and it’ll work out.”
Jones has three interceptions this year and nine for his career.
Added defensive back Kevin King: “(Stewart and Ridley) are their primary guys. They’re both good. They can catch, and they’ve got some speed. They’re some explosive guys. Having explosive guys on the outside such as (Ridley) and (Stewart), if he’s able to scramble, it gives them the feeling to pretty much do whatever they want. Guarding routes where they can only go a few ways is one thing, but when (Hurts) starts scrambling, it’s back to backyard football. When receivers can do what they want, it’s kind of hard to guard somebody who’s really making something up. It becomes harder to ‘plaster’ a dude, for sure. The d-line’s got to help us out a little there.
“(Hurts) has an extremely strong arm, and he’s capable of making every throw on the field. He can definitely hurt you in the run game.
“Tackling is huge, and trying not to have them get outside on us. Tackling is a point of emphasis in all our games, but especially in a playoff game. You can’t just leave it on one guy. You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball.”
Baker knows Hurts is a handful. His teammates, do, too.
“I feel like the d-line is going to have a great opportunity to try and keep this man (Hurts) in the pocket,” Baker said. “When he does cross the line of scrimmage, we’ve got to hit him. He’s been hit before, but he’s never backed down. You see him running over guys and stiff-arming guys. We’ve just got to keep hitting him and hitting him and hitting him, all game, and hopefully, he’ll crack, but he’s never cracked yet.”
Baker, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe, Bednarik, and Lott Awards, has five career picks, two this season. He’s made 194 tackles in three years, including 65 in 2016.
Linebacker Psalm Wooching has heard the talk that 2016 Alabama is unbeatable. He says he’s not buying it. “No team is perfect,” said. “If they were perfect, they would score on every play. They'd pick the ball, get a sack on every play and that's not the case, so I'll leave it at that. No team is perfect. Thank God.”
What would it feel like to knock off the top team in the land who is favored by two touchdowns? “It would be a great feeling across the board,” said linebacker Keishawn Bierria. “For this program, it would just show how hard we worked, because we've been going through a lot of adversity, from losing our coach (Steve Sarkisian), like pretty much the whole class, like the class I came in when I was recruited like just going to different schools, breaking up. It would just show that regardless, we were destined for this. We worked hard enough for this. We put in an effort for this and this really is a great team. I tell my guys every day, you guys are great. From what we've done like to get here and all the stuff we've been through, I don't think I could have did it with anybody else.”
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Added King: “I think for Husky Nation and for people who have been fans for a while now, I think it would be great. I think everybody's behind us. Everybody's had a great year watching us and seeing what we've been capable of. For us that have been in our little circle in the team, we're not coming to possibly knock off number one Alabama. That's not our mindset. That's not what we've come to do. We've come to win. We've come to compete and we're not thinking, ‘Oh, like we might be able to do this.’ We come with the mindset of, ‘Okay, let's go in there. Let's get it done.’ From the top to bottom, we're ready to play, and we're going to go out there, we're going to play like we know we can and how we're capable of, so I think definitely getting to this point and being able to beat anybody at this point in time is going to take your A-game. It's going to take precise execution and we're ready to get it done.”