Happy Friday, everyone. Only one more day until we kick this thing off. Yesterday was Peach Bowl media day, so there is plenty of material for you to take in this morning. We’ll start with some keys to the game:
NFL scout: "Washington takes a deep shot pretty much once a quarter, so if [Huskies wide receiver] John Ross can win half of those 50-50 balls against [Alabama defensive backs] Marlon Humphrey or Anthony Averett and get a trick play or two, maybe they can effectively move the ball. Alabama hasn't faced a distributor like Browning, but Browning hasn't faced a pass rush like these guys, either. Browning wasn't the same guy against Southern California Trojans or Colorado Buffaloes (43 percent passing for 188.5 yards vs. USC and Colorado; 67 percent passing for 263.9 yards in all other games). Those are games where people were in his grill.
1. Dominate the line of scrimmage
One thing is clear when looking at these teams: Alabama’s offensive and defensive linemen are bigger. This should lend itself to the Tide having an advantage in the trenches.
The Crimson Tide should be able to control both lines of scrimmage. That means Alabama should be able to run the ball and control the clock. On defense, Alabama should be able to get pressure on the quarterback and hold up against Washington’s talented rushing attack.
Saban has to make sure the Tide don’t believe they’re unbeatable even if everyone else does. Think about all the supposedly invincible teams in the past 30 years of games that helped determine college football’s national champion. (In the playoff era, the pregame dynamics of semifinal are more similar to the BCS title game because the teams have almost a month to prepare. The time between the semifinal and the national title game is more similar to the time between regular-season games.) The 1995 Nebraska, 2001 Miami and 2004 USC teams held up their end of the bargain and crushed their title-game opponents, but that list of title-game losers a few paragraphs up is much longer.
This Alabama team seems to be exceptionally mature, so I don’t think the hype will be an issue for them. The senior leadership has done an outstanding job all year of keeping the team grounded as the hype machine went into overdrive.
As far as the game itself, there is one constant in football: games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Washington has an excellent team and is certainly a worthy adversary, but the one huge mismatch in this game is their offensive line vs. the Alabama front. This is an advantage for the Tide this year no matter who they play, but it is particularly glaring in this one.
There has been a lot of talk around trick plays, but I’m not sure Petersen takes the risk in this one. Against a defense that is as disciplined as Alabama’s and wins at the point of attack, gadgets can get you run out of the building. No, look for them to try and stay on schedule with a good mix of run and play-action on first down. The problem, of course, is that nobody can run on Alabama and particularly not a team with a questionable line.
They are too good to shut out, but it is going to be awfully tough sledding for them. On the other side, look for the Tide to be rather risk averse against a ball-hawking secondary. This should make for something of an ugly, lower scoring affair. In the end, let’s call it 34-16, with one D/ST score mixed in for the Tide.
As usual, give us your score in the comments.
Washington has at least one believer in USA Today writer Dan Wolken:
If the Huskies can cobble together 17 points and avoid turning the ball over themselves, they’ll be in the game going into the fourth quarter. And while we know Alabama is a terrific frontrunner, it’s uncertain how this team and its inexperienced quarterback would react if it was pushed to the limit because nobody in the SEC was good enough this year to do that. Maybe, just maybe, putting Hurts in a pressurized situation will finally expose his inexperience if he has to make throws to win a football game.
So, would being down 24-3 in his first college road game, or going into the fourth quarter scoreless in Red Stick, qualify as “pressurized” or nah? Wonder how confident Washington fans are right now?
Should be a great trip! Moving on...
The cornerback said he might have an edge when it comes to anticipating his opponent since Washington wide receiver John Ross’ seems to play with a similar speed and style to that of Ridley.
Ross leads the Huskies receiving corps alongside Dante Pettis. They finished with 76 receptions for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns and 50 receptions for 796 yards and 14 touchdowns, respectively. As impressive as those numbers are, they didn’t seem to shake Averett’s confidence on Thursday.
“Calvin made a big name for himself, he’s definitely on the scene right now and probably one of the better receivers in the country,” Averett said. “So when you shut him down or just stick him where he was like if I can stick him I can stick anyone else in the country.”
"I think it's a testament to the process that Coach Saban always speaks about and talks about," Ansley said. "For some people it happens quicker. Minkah (Fitzpatrick) played as a freshman. Ronnie (Harrison) played as a freshman. Some people have to work and build and become that player. Two totally different ways to do it.
"Both guys, Marlon (Humphrey) and Anthony, our two corners, got to where they're at at different times at different speeds. It's just a testament that if you're patient things can happen for you. It's a dying breed in society. People are just so self-gratified and want things to happen right now, instantly. So when you get a guy who has the talent that Anthony had coming in and not gripe and not want to leave and works his way up into the starting lineup, it makes it that much more satisfying for him."
Nothing is better for player development than competing against other elite talents in practice every day. Of course, the downside to that is that some of those elite talents are forced to wait their turn. Kudos to Anthony for hanging in there and competing. It is paying off in fine fashion.
“This is the next step to the NFL and it’s almost ran like an NFL organization, so coming back here you can never go wrong,” said O.J. Howard, who could have gone pro last year following his breakout performance in the national title game but chose to come back and could be the first tight end picked in 2017. “You’re going to get better and compete with the best every day and compete in the big games, so there’s nothing wrong with coming back. You really have nothing to lose.”
The resonance of that message is a major reason why Alabama rolled into the playoff with a dominant 13-0 record and stands in sharp contrast to Ohio State and Clemson, its biggest rivals on the national stage the last two seasons.
Speaking of patience, coming back for a senior season has paid off for many Tide players. Jonathan Allen in particular has gone from fringe first-rounder to top-5 lock and in the conversation for first overall. Several Alabama players will be facing the same choice after the season, Humphrey and Averett chief among them.
As expected, Lane got plenty of attention yesterday:
This time, it was after Alabama's media day session Thursday morning for the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Kiffin was the last person from the Alabama contingent doing interviews after the hourlong session ended, and by the time he got out of the Georgia Dome locker room to where the buses were supposed to be, they were already headed back to the team hotel in downtown Atlanta.
"Yep, got left again," cracked Kiffin, Alabama's offensive coordinator and incoming Florida Atlantic head coach.
So Saban has once again hired someone with a checkered past, but Kiffin, in a strange way, helped clear the path for Sarkisian to get this job. Saban brought in Kiffin and it worked. So the risk doesn’t seem too great to move Sarkisian up from offensive analyst to offensive coordinator.
Kiffin actually thinks Sarkisian will be a better fit than he was.
“The best way I would describe that without details would be I think his personality will work a little bit better than mine with Coach and I’m not saying it was a bad thing at all,” Kiffin said. “I would say Sark manages people better than I do at times.”
Good old Lane. It’s pretty clear from his remarks that he didn’t necessarily enjoy Saban’s rigid schedule, but he also acknowledges that it made him a better football coach. From a professional standpoint, he is probably correct that Sark will be a better match with Saban, if not quite as fun.
“I didn’t talk to one NFL team last year, they know who to call: Jimmy Sexton has been with me for a long time,” Saban said. “He calls me and says, ‘Are you interested?’ And I say no and that’s it. That’s as far as anything ever went with any team. It’s certainly flattering that somebody would have interest, but at this station in life, from a family standpoint, from a personal standpoint, we’re excited about the challenges we have in trying to continue to have a successful program at Alabama and we haven’t entertained any other opportunities outside the opportunities we have at Alabama.”
Next year some NFL team will fire its coach and Nick Saban will be mentioned as the successor. Rinse and repeat.
If you’d like to watch more media day video, Al.com has a veritable smorgasbord for you HERE including the full hour-long Saban PC, over 30 minutes from Jalen Hurts, and several other player and coach interviews.
Lastly, Jeremy Sprinkle wins this week’s college football Darwin Award. His Arkansas team received a bid to play in the Belk Bowl. As usual, there are perks involved, in this case a $450 gift card to Belk along with a team trip to the company’s flagship store in Charlotte so that the players may spend it. Unfortunately, Jeremy didn’t think the $450 was quite enough:
Here's what Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle shoplifted according to Charlotte police: pic.twitter.com/AxDK39LR5l— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) December 29, 2016
A senior, with NFL aspirations, ripping off the Bowl sponsor to get himself suspended from his last college football game? That’s a special kind of stupid.
This $260 in merchandise is probably going to cost him seven figures in April. Nice move.
That’s about it for today. Have a great New Year’s weekend.