University of Washington

Huskies’ next challenge is finding gaps in Alabama’s defensive front (good luck)

Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith discusses preparations for the national semifinal game

Smith talks about the Alabama defense after practice Dec. 10.
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Smith talks about the Alabama defense after practice Dec. 10.

Trey Adams, the biggest and most imposing man along the University of Washington’s offensive line, doesn’t need film, or a stat sheet, or hearsay to help shape his early impression about the Alabama defense.

He’s got ESPN.

“You seem them on Sportscenter all the time,” Adams said. “That is a pretty good sign that they are good.”

After a full week off from winning the Pac-12 championship game, the Huskies were back at work Saturday morning, preparing for the College Football Playoff semifinals against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

The UW faces Alabama in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The post-practice topic immediately turned to the Crimson Tide’s defense, which is being hailed as one of the best of all-time — led by defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster.

“Up front, they can manage the line of scrimmage. They’ve got some perimeter players that can run around,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “We are going to have to put a good plan together, for sure.”

Just look at some of the statistical categories in which Alabama leads the country:

▪  Total defense at 247.8 yards per game.

▪  Scoring defense at 11.8 points per game (14 touchdowns given up this season are fewest in the nation).

▪  Ten defensive touchdowns scored (five interception returns, five fumble returns).

▪  And, perhaps the most impressive number, the 63.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

“On paper, it will probably be the best defense we face,” Huskies all-purpose back Chico McClatcher said. “We’ve got to make sure our assignments on blocking are good. We have to hold on to the ball. And we have to run hard, really.”

Alabama is a classic two-gap defense where the three down linemen are responsible in controlling running lanes on both sides of a blocker.

The linebackers not only aggressively get downhill to meet ballcarriers early on inside runs, they are also sound enough not to lose outside containment.

Five starters in the Crimson Tide’s front seven are seniors.

“All of their guys across the front are NFL guys potentially,” Adams said.

In bits and pieces, Smith sees parts of USC, Utah and Colorado in Alabama’s defense.

“There are some similarities to what we’ve seen so far, but not in regards to the talent they’ve got and the physicality they’ve got,” Smith said. “That definitely shows up on tape.”

The Huskies averaged 210.0 rushing yards per game this season, good for 36th in the country. And their 5.5-yard-per-carry average is inside the top 20.

But Alabama gives up a paltry 2.0 yards per carry to opposing ball-carriers.

“We’ve got a couple of weeks to get it figured out,” Smith said. “I know this, we are at our best when we are balanced, and we are going to try and find a way to get that done.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to scoring one more point than them. We will go in there swinging, I know that.”

EXTRA POINTS

With a handful of recruits from the Steve Sarkisian era still on the UW roster, senior defensive back Kevin King was asked whether those players worried about their old coach’s intel on them. “No,” he said. “We work on our weaknesses. What might have been a weakness back then is not a weakness now. He might try and exploit what is a strength.” Sarkisian is currently working as an offensive analyst at Alabama. … King also gave a glimpse into the Crimson Tide offense, comparing it a little bit to USC. “They’ve got a lot of athletes – big guys, fast guys.” … The Huskies practiced in the Dempsey Indoor Practice Facility on Saturday, partly to get used to what the Georgia Dome might be like, Adams said.

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