Washington Coach Chris Peterson saw it coming. Nick Saban knew it all along. Bo Scarbrough? He just added the exclamation point to “Run the damn ball!”
Alabama, behind Scarbrough’s school bowl record 180 yards, out-rushed Washington 269 yards to 44 en route to a 24-7 win in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl National Semifinal. Bo eclipsed Sherman Williams’ 166 yards in Orlando against Ohio State in January, 1995. Williams was that year’s Citrus Bowl MVP.
“We knew this would be a tough game,” Saban said. “I think when you get to this point in the season, especially when you have this much time between games, it's a little bit like running a marathon, when you get at the 20-mile mark and you still feel like you're only halfway there, but we got more miles to go. These guys are very committed to it, and they worked hard over the holiday and made a lot of sacrifices, and I was really proud of the way we competed. We knew it would be a tough game out there. They've got a really good defensive team. I think our defense did a really good job against their explosive, big play receivers and offense that they have, and I'm just really pleased with the way we played together as a team.”
Saban was quick to cite injured senior captain safety Eddie Jackson’s heartfelt letter to his teammates earlier this week as a factor in how the Tide pulled together. “I thought Eddie's article that he wrote sort of epitomizes the team chemistry that this team has and how they really sort of care about each other and everybody tries to help each other and have each other's back and support each other in doing the right things,” Saban noted. “I think that kind of leadership and that kind of togetherness is something that really helped us sustain the kind of effort that we needed in what was a very tough game tonight against a very good Washington team.”
Still, there was the need to “run the damn ball. “I think that we went into this game thinking that we really needed to run the ball,” Saban said. “I think early on, we ran it effectively, especially on our first scoring drive, and then we started to see a lot more inside linebacker plugs. We started to see a lot more corner fires (blitzes), pressures from the edges, and that made it much more difficult for us to run. We were ahead in the game, and obviously I think we have to do a better job at creating balance on offense and being able to throw the ball a little more effectively. And that's something that we'll continue to work on.”
Peterson said, “We kind of thought they'd run the ball. That would be their plan. That's kind of what they do, and that's what they're good at. They keep you off balance with some bootlegs and those types of things. But they're all about running the ball. They did run the ball effectively, but we played good enough defense to keep them out. The turnovers and then the one big run really got us on our defensive side.”
Scarbrough broke the game open with that “big run,” an explosive 68-yard jaunt with 11:56 to go for his second score of the game. “Bo has really played well for us, especially the second half of the season when he got healthy,” Saban said. “We've been playing him more and more and he has certainly delivered in a really positive way. The long run that he made tonight, broke a tackle, and, you know, the one he had at Tennessee that was a long run, guy hit him in the hole, but I think that's what makes him a great player. He's got great size and speed. He can run behind his pads. He's got good vision. He's a good receiver and he can block. So he can do all the things that any good running back can do. His productivity has certainly been a benefit to this team, especially the second half of the season.”
Scarbrough took no credit. “It's just trust in the process and believing in your teammates and believing in yourself that you can get the job done if the coach can trust you,” he said.
So what was it like, breaking tackles and making cuts to 68 yards toward clinching a trip to Tampa? Bo wasn’t biting. “You'd have to ask my offensive line about that, because, you know, they did their job and I just took what they gave me. You've got to trust the plays you're running and you got to believe in your offensive line that they're going to get it done. When you get to the secondary, you're on your own, basically, because the offensive line did their job. So I really think you should ask the offensive line what they did to get me through there.”
Saban added, “Bo has always been a really hard worker, and he's had some obstacles to overcome, mostly little injury type things that have plagued him a little bit. Never once did he put his head down. Never once did he get frustrated or discouraged. He just kept working. Every time you call on him, he's ready to roll, and you guys know me. Whoever's hot, that's who's going to get the ball and he's been hot lately and he's going to get the ball.”
Scarbrough, the game’s Offensive MVP, did nothing to shock Defensive MVP Ryan Anderson. He knew what Washington could expect from Bo. “I thought he was a monster,” Anderson said. “I saw him make those runs against us in scrimmages since he got here, so it wasn't a surprise to me.”
Anderson scored yet another Tide defensive touchdown with a 26-yard interception return after dropping in coverage at the last second, surprising Huskies quarterback Jake Browning. “I was rushing, and Reuben (Foster, nine stops) gave me a call to peel the back,” Anderson said. “I peeled him, and the quarterback didn't see me and I just picked it off.”
Saban said of Foster’s call and its result, “That was a great job of those two guys executing, and it shows you that guys aren't unselfish at all. When the back was offset to an open end side, we wanted Reuben to rush the A-gap, and Ryan to take the back. And, you know, he's a great pass rusher, but that also helped our protection. And as the back blocked Reuben, we got an extra guy rushing. So they did a nice job in practice of executing that and they did a really good job (today).
“I don't think the quarterback (Browning) expected Ryan to peel the guy on that play, and threw the ball out there and Ryan made a great play and a great run, and it was a big play in the game.”
Saban said that play was a great example of his selfless defense working together. “When you’re in that huddle, there ain’t anybody special,” he explained. “Everybody's together. Everybody has respect for each other, and everybody appreciates the job that everybody else does. And you can go a long way in doing a lot of things, and you may never find that. But you find it when you play football and you play together as a team.”
Anderson really misses Jackson on the field, to the point that he considered a drastic uniform change. “Me and Eddie, we're real close,” he explained. “I'd say me and Eddie, probably of all the guys on the team are the closest, the dude that I'm closest to. So when he first got hurt, man, it just, at that moment, you know, I actually asked Coach (Saban) could I wear his number (4), because I really was hurt about that, that he couldn't finish the year how he wanted to. Based on the fact that he came back, he's just been there, and he's like a coach now, man. So it means a lot to us and it means a lot to us to go out and win for him.”
Saban pointed out that even without Jackson, his secondary has pulled together and shown great chemistry. “We have six guys that really do a good job,” he said. “They've all played now the positions that they're playing. Ronnie (Harrison) played the sixth DB last year, so he had a lot of experience at that. He didn't have to play safety. Now he plays safety and dime.
“Minkah (Fitzpatrick) played star. Now he has to play safety since we lost Eddie and he's done a really good job at that. Tony Brown has stepped up very nicely for us and filled in at star. Marlon (Humphrey) and Anthony (Averett, who had eight tackles Saturday) have done a good job at corner. And Hootie Jones has done a good job when he's come in as a sixth defensive back. So those six guys have done a really good job for us. Past that, we have a lot of young guys who don't have a lot of experience but they have made a lot of progress this season and have made a lot of improvement as well. They didn't have much of an opportunity to play tonight.
“I think they all did a good job. The front guys did a really good job of allowing us to play that way, and then the back end guys did a really good job of executing what we needed to do to take those big plays out of the game. Also, the front guys affected the quarterback, which I think has huge in the game as well.”
Video by A.P. Steadham
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