Yesterday, I gave you my play for the Fiesta Bowl. Before that game gets underway, the best team in the country, no. 1-ranked Alabama (13-0, 9-4 ATS), will take the field against the no. 4 Washington Huskies (12-1, 7-6 ATS) at the Georgia Dome (3:00 PM ET).
The Huskies come into the game as massive underdogs, and for good reason. Alabama has been on another level almost all season and their roster is filled with future NFLers on both sides of the ball. Good luck to the Huskies running the rock against Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and the rest of this Alabama front-seven. The Tide were, far and away, the best defense in the nation against the run, limiting opponents to just 2.0 YPC and 63.4 YPG. The next closest team, Houston, surrendered nearly 3.0 YPC. The Husky ground game had its share of success this year (5.46 YPC; 210 YPG), but it never faced the brick-wall it will meet this afternoon.
That’s going to put a ton of pressure on QB Jake Browning to have a huge day. Good thing the Tide struggle against the pass. Er, wait, they also have a top-flight passing defense (5.82 YPA) and get after quarterbacks with the best of them (45 sacks, fifth in the nation).
So how is Washington going to score? Probably the same way as Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Er, wait, Auburn lost that game 30-12 and only had 180 yards of total offense.
The only team that gave Bama a scare this year was Ole Miss (48-43). The Rebels also had a pass-first offense led by a talented, experienced QB in Chad Kelly, which bodes well for Washington. But you have to remember that that game was (a) in Mississippi, (b) all the way back in October, and (c) just the third career start for Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. The team has been on an upward trajectory since then, especially the offense. None of their last ten opponents have been able to keep the scoring margin in single digits.
Coupled with star receivers ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley, Hurts provides Alabama with a legitimate passing game (2,592 yards, 22 TDs, nine INTs on 65-percent passing). Of course, the ground game is where this offense really shines. The fact that Nick Saban can rotate Damien Harris (986 yards), Joshua Jacobs (548 yards), and Bo Scarbrough (539 yards) means Bama always has a fresh back ready to hit the hole. And that doesn’t even touch on Hurts’ dual-threat abilities; the freshman was actually second on the team in rushing yards and led the Tide with 12 majors on the ground.
Washington has a solid defense of its own (17.2 PPG, 316.2 YPG), but it will be sans ILB Azeem Victor and edge rusher Joe Mathis. Victor’s absence will open up more running lanes for Alabama, while Mathis’ ability to get after the QB will be sorely missed when the Tide take to the air. While I expect the Husky defense to come out strong, the undermanned unit is going to be on the field way too much and, eventually, Alabama’s size advantage on the line is going to lead to chunk plays and long drives.
Throw in the fact that Alabama has covered six of its last eight, including five spreads of 14 points or more, and I’m booking residence on the Tide bandwagon.
Pick: Alabama (-14).
Photo credit: Matt Velazquez (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].
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