Washington or Alabama? College bloggers debate who will cover in Peach Bowl

If you’re still on the fence about who to back in this CFP semifinal matchup we’ve enlisted the help of expert college bloggers Gabey Lucas, from UW Dawg Pound, and SaxonRBR, from Roll ‘Bama Roll. They strap on the pads and debate which team will not only win, but cover the spread in the Peach Bowl.

WHY WASHINGTON WILL COVER

Gabey Lucas is a writer at UW Dawg Pound. You can follow her on Twitter (@Gabeynotgabby) and UW Dawg Pound on Facebook (@UWDawgPound) and Twitter (@UWonSBN).

Defensive fundamentals

While watching Alabama tape, I noticed that a number of big plays and scores by their offense were less the result of offensive brilliance and more due to opponents taking poor angles and using poor tackling technique. If you’re trying to stop 230 pound Bo Scarborough, arm tackling is a sure way to be unsuccessful.

The Huskies’ defensive strengths nullify this; besides being incredibly disciplined in executing their assignments, they also place unmatched weight on their rugby tackling method. This is both way safer and way more effective and is a big part of why Washington allows less big plays of 20+ yards than nearly every team in the country.

Offensive complexity and Jake Browning’s brain

Before I begin, I’m morally obliged to say that no, the following paragraph is not me saying that Bama’s defense isn’t great.

However, another thing I’ve noticed from game footage is that when they were most dominant was against opponents where the the playbook wasn’t that much to deal with anyway. Auburn, LSU, Florida, Tennessee – it seemed like half their plays were either a fly sweep, a fake fly sweep, or a desperation heave deep. Of course I’m exaggerating, but then compare that to the few times where they went up against a passing threat like against Arkansas or Ole Miss. Alabama’s defense on average held an opponent to almost 18 points per game less than said opponent’s seasonal points per game average, but these were the two times where this wasn’t the case; Arkansas met their average PPG and Mississippi scored 11 more than their average PPG. So we already have proof that the Crimson Tide defense can be figured out when an offense isn’t one dimensional and keeps them honest.

Then factor in that the Washington offense is a balanced, pass-first attack that’s more complicated than both of the teams who equaled or beat their PPG average. The heavy utilization of pre-snap motions both causes the defense to tip their hand and increases the likelihood of defensive execution getting jumbled. Couple that with Jake Browning, who makes up for mediocre arm strength by being one of the smartest quarterbacks in the country. He frequently changes plays at the line of scrimmage and his ability to read and manipulate a defense can be lethal. If the Dawgs crack the Bama code, this will be a big part of it.

1000 lbs of fast twitch muscle fiber (and some ball hawks)

For all the worrying about Washington’s undersized linebackers going up against Alabama’s jacked running backs, there’s no such fear in regards to the defensive line. Greg Gaines, Elijah Qualls, and Vita Vea are all well into the 300+ pound territory but with the quick-twitch athleticism of well-tuned tap dancers. If Bama’s rookie QB Jalen Hurts has shown any signs of being a rookie this year, it shows in fumbles and forced passes. And if these three are good at anything, it’s forcing fumbles and forcing throws.

Meanwhile, the defensive backfield is packed with future first and second-round draft talent that doesn’t let those sorts of throws go unpunished. Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Taylor Rapp, the often underappreciated Kevin King – if Hurts makes freshman throws, these guys won’t let those go unpunished.

WHY ALABAMA WILL COVER

SaxonRBR is a writer and “lead analytics peon” at Roll ‘Bama Roll. You can follow him on Twitter (@SaxonRBR) and Roll ‘Bama Roll on Facebook and Twitter (@rollbamaroll).

Pass rush

The lack of a pass rush used to be the big knock on Alabama’s defenses, but that hole has vanished over the last two seasons. The Tide was third in the country with 45 sacks heading into bowl season, and have the eighth-best pass rush according to the S&P+ sack metrics. Washington’s offensive line, on the other hand, has been dismal in pass protection at times, and gave up 21 sacks to defenses significantly less-polished than the Tide’s. Jake Browning has a tendency to panic under heavy pressure, and he’s going to see a lot of that on Saturday.

One-dimensional offense

Nobody runs on the Tide. The big name for the Huskies’ offense is Browning, but if they can’t get anything going on the ground this is going to be a long and painful afternoon for them. Washington has played one opponent with a comparable rush defense to Alabama’s, and that was USC; when accounting for sack yardage the Huskies managed just 35 yards on the ground in that game. That means Browning and his receivers will have to win the game for Washington, and they’ll have to go through one of the nation’s best pass defenses to do it.

Elite rushing attack

With all due respect to Stanford and Christian McCaffrey, the Huskies have not faced an offensive line and rushing attack the quality of Alabama’s group. The injury situation with star left tackle Cam Robinson is concerning, but Alabama has four outstanding ballcarriers to throw at the Washington front. So far nobody’s had an answer for Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Bo Scarbrough, and Jalen Hurts as a whole, and nothing suggests Washington will be the first.

Experience

Alabama is headed to its third-straight playoff; Washington is heading to its first major bowl since 2000. They’ve never been on this stage before in other words, and history would suggest it’s not yet their time. And with experience comes the ability to respond to adversity — a hallmark of the Saban teams is finding a way to win when their backs were against the wall. Despite being held scoreless through three quarters by LSU and getting down by 21 against Ole Miss, the Tide emerged victorious. Washington will be hard-pressed to build a big lead against this defense, but even if they do, don’t expect the Tide to quit fighting until the game is over.

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