ATLANTA — If they can snag them from the bullpen in the early innings of World Series games, then why not in college football national semifinals?
Backup tailback Bo Scarbrough was the star of Alabama's 24-7 downing of Washington in Saturday afternoon's Peach Bowl national semifinal, with the 6-foot-2, 228-pound sophomore humbling the Huskies for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Scarbrough didn't have 180 yards all season until the seventh game, when he collected 109 yards in the 49-10 win at Tennessee.
Before a Georgia Dome record crowd of 75,996, Scarbrough had nine first-half carries for 80 yards before adding a dazzling 68-yard touchdown run that made it 24-7 with 11:56 remaining in the game.
"Bo has really done a good job during the second half of the season, and he's really almost like the middle reliever or closer," Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. "Obviously he made a big play, but sometimes you don't make those plays at the end of the first quarter. You make them as the defense gets more tired."
Alabama's other offensive weapons weren't as overpowering, with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts completing 7 of 14 passes for just 57 yards and rushing 19 times for only 50 yards. Starting tailback Damien Harris had nine carries for 30 yards, while top receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart combined on one catch for 6 yards.
The Huskies (12-2) entered Saturday leading the nation with 33 takeaways but didn't gather any against the Tide (14-0).
"This team thrives on turnovers and doesn't give up big plays," Kiffin said. "We told our guys not to get frustrated, and we were very conservative in the second half because of the way our defense was playing. It didn't make much sense to take a bunch of chances and let them get momentum off of turnovers.
"We knew that if we didn't give them short fields that it would be awfully hard for them to score against our defense."
Alabama's defense held Washington to 194 total yards, and the Huskies did not run a play in Crimson Tide territory from the 8:01 mark of the first quarter until there was 1:46 left in the game. Ryan Anderson's 26-yard interception return of a Jake Browning pass intended for Lavon Coleman with 1:13 before halftime gave the Crimson Tide a permanent double-digit cushion at 17-7.
Washington struck first by moving 64 yards on eight plays on its second possession, taking a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Browning to Dante Pettis. Browning had a 20-yard run on third-and-7 to extend the drive, which made it the fourth consecutive game in which Alabama's opponent scored first.
The Crimson Tide trailed UTC and Auburn 3-0 and trailed Florida 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"We just had to settle down," Anderson said. "We had a lot of anxiety and didn't play real well, and we just had to settle down."
Scarbrough's 18-yard touchdown run at the 2:55 mark of the first quarter tied the game at 7, and Adam Griffith's 41-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter gave the Crimson Tide a 10-7 lead. Scarbrough's 80 first-half rushing yards led an offense that otherwise had 25 plays for 58 yards.
Alabama headed back to Tuscaloosa after Saturday's game and will venture at the end of this week to Tampa, Fla., where it will face Clemson for the second straight year in the national championship game on Jan. 9. A triumph there would give the Crimson Tide two consecutive national championships and five of the last eight under coach Nick Saban.
"We knew this would be a tough game," Saban said. "When you get to this point in the season, especially when you have this much time between games, it's a little bit like running a marathon and getting to the 20-mile mark and you still feel like you're only halfway there.
"We've got more miles to go, and these guys are very committed to it."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.