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Grading the Game: Peach Bowl

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A strong defensive showing on Washington’s part simply wasn’t enough to overcome Alabama’s overwhelming athleticism.

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NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Offense: D

It seems unfair to judge the Huskies too harshly on their offensive woes — after all, Alabama’s defense spent this season putting up once-in-a-generation-type statistics, such as yielding 2.0 yards per rushing attempt — but Washington’s ground game was objectively bad on Saturday. Per Michael Renner at Pro Football Focus, Washington’s offense ran 18 designed handoffs to running backs that produced a pitiful 53 yards, only 21 of which came before contact. Put it this way: On an average run against the Alabama front seven, Washington’s running backs made it just 1.17 yards past the line of scrimmage before being met by a defender. The Husky offensive line was simply outclassed at the point of attack against the ‘Bama defense, and the offense was rendered one-dimensional as a result.

Passing Offense: D+

In early December, ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper predicted that Alabama’s two best pass-rushing specialists, Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams, would be two of the first seven prospects off the board. (‘Bama middle linebacker and onetime Husky recruit Reuben Foster sits between them at No. 4.) On Saturday, the Huskies found themselves on the receiving end of a literal crash-course in the duo’s power and ability, as they spearheaded the Alabama pass rush that sacked Jake Browning five times. When he wasn’t running for his life, Browning had little luck in finding open receivers downfield, completing just 15 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions to his wide receivers and tight ends. Perhaps most importantly, Browning’s pick-six that came with just over a minute before halftime and gave Alabama a 10-point lead all but put the game out of reach.

Rushing Defense: C+

For much of the afternoon, Washington’s defensive front did just fine against the ‘Bama ground attack. At halftime, for example, the Tide had rolled up 106 yards and one touchdown on 25 attempts — not a fantastic stat line for the Huskies, but one that would have put them in a position to win had they maintained that quality of play in the second half. Alas, it was not to be, as Alabama engineered a magnificent six-play, 98-yard drive early in the fourth quarter that featured two key runs by Bo Scarbrough: The first, a 12-yard third-down conversion from the Tide’s 3-yard line, and the second, a monstrosity of a 68-yard score in which Scarborough shed approximately 57 tackles before finding the end zone and increasing Alabama’s lead to 17 points. It seems no coincidence that the scoring drive in question came after three Washington offensive drives that lasted three, three and six plays; at that point, Washington’s defenders simply ran out of gas, and the Tide’s depth carried the day.

Passing Defense: A-

It isn’t surprising that Alabama’s true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts was asked to do little against the vaunted Washington secondary, and at the game’s conclusion, his stat line was an insignificant seven completions on 14 attempts for 57 yards. Most importantly, though, is that Hurts never turned the ball over. Budda Baker had a wonderful opportunity to corral an errant pass on the Alabama offense’s very first play from scrimmage but was unable to secure the interception, which turned out to be the first of several missed opportunities in which the Dawgs proved unable to swing the game’s momentum in their favor. Meanwhile, Kevin King and Sidney Jones were their usual lockdown cornerback selves, as Hurts completed just two passes for 16 yards to players at the wide receiver positions.

Special Teams: B-

Cameron Van Winkle’s last game in a Husky uniform was as quiet as any he’s had all season, kicking just one extra point while not being afforded any field goal attempts. Dante Pettis attempted to return only two of JK Scott’s eight field goals and was both times frustrated by Alabama’s superb coverage that limited him to five total return yards. Similarly, John Ross found little success in his kick returns, gaining a miserly 47 total yards on three attempts. By far the special teams star of the day was Tristan Vizcaino, who boomed his first two punts for 65 and 62 yards, and another for 52 yards. In addition, Jake Browning beautifully executed his one pooch-punt attempt to pin the Tide at their own 2-yard line, though Alabama’s ensuing 98-yard touchdown drive robs it of highlight status.

Coaching: C

Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith was forced to undertake an unfamiliar task Saturday: that of calling a game in which the Huskies trailed for significant stretches of time. He mostly proved himself up to the task, mixing in just enough runs and screen passes to keep the Alabama defense honest while simultaneously committing to the quick-passing game that was Washington’s only realistic path to success. In addition, the Husky offense committed just one penalty all game, a five-yard false start against true freshman right guard Nick Harris.

On defense, the Huskies looked uncharacteristically sloppy, missing 16 of 57 tackles (per PFF). Playing fundamentally sound football has long been a calling card of Chris Petersen- and Pete Kwiatkowski-coached teams, so it seems likely that the team’s subpar performance in that area is a result of them playing college football’s most dominant program rather than an indicator of some deep-seated issue.

More than anything, Saturday’s loss was about Washington not having the quality depth of players that a program like Alabama possesses. Simply put, the better and more talented team won, and there’s no shame in that. Fixing that issue can only be done through recruiting, and Petersen is already hard at work in that area. If the Huskies are fortunate enough to return to this stage in 2017, though, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they are able to go toe-to-toe with the nation’s elite based on how we expect the roster to be constructed at that point. Until that changes, all the creative schematics in the world might not be enough to put the Dawgs over the top.