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Alabama beats Washington behind defense, Scarbrough

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Mark Wiedmer

ATLANTA — Forty-four and a half points per game.

That's what the Washington Huskies were averaging this season prior to Saturday afternoon's Peach Bowl national semifinal against No. 1 Alabama. It was the fourth-best average in the country. It was supposed to severely test the Crimson Tide's top-rated defense.

Instead, four of the words most often heard inside the Georgia Dome weren't "another touchdown for Washington," but "Vizcaino back to punt," a reference to Huskies punter Tristan Vizcaino, who wound up booting the ball eight times in Alabama's 24-7 win.

"They really are who we thought they were," losing coach Chris Petersen said. "A really, really elite championship defense."

To be fair to the Washington defense, similarly salty most of the afternoon, Crimson Tide punter JK Scott also punted eight times.

But while Bama finished with a somewhat respectable 326 total yards against a Washington defense that had been giving up 316 yards per game, the Huskies were held to 194 total yards — 283 fewer than their per-game average — by a defense that had been surrendering 248 yards per game.

The Tide so manhandled Washington's offense, the only player on the field long enough to possibly need oxygen was Vizcaino.

Or maybe every offense needs oxygen against the Tide 'D' — because it never lets you breathe.

"They are really fast," said Washington quarterback Jake Browning, whose pick-six interception to linebacker Ryan Anderson gave the Tide a 17-7 lead just before halftime and arguably all but guaranteed the reigning national champs a shot at a second straight crown.

"(That interception) totally changed the momentum of the game," Browning added. "They've had some games where it's been close, and then they'll get a defensive touchdown and get rolling."

In truth, the Tide never really got rolling on offense in this game, save for the singular brilliance of sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough, who gained 180 yards, scored two touchdowns and ended all doubt about the outcome with a magical 68-yard touchdown run three minutes into the final period.

"Didn't tackle one time and (Scarbrough) made a great one, broke about five tackles," lamented Petersen. "We had him."

No one's had Alabama at game's end for 26 straight contests. Even on those nights they're less than perfect, the Tiders still find a way to be better than the opposition.

"They're so good against the run," Petersen said, "and they might be better pass rushers."

Consider this: At the close of the first quarter, the Huskies had accumulated seven points, six first downs and 103 yards of total offense. Over the rest of the game, they scored no more points, collected but eight more first downs and generated but 91 more yards.

And this was the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country entering this game.

"It's pretty frustrating," said Washington wide receiver John Ross, who had caught 17 touchdowns and averaged 86.3 receiving yards per game before Saturday, only to catch five balls for a grand total of 28 yards against the Tide. "They fly to the ball."

Now they fly to Tampa, Fla., for the national championship game on Jan. 9. Can they be beaten?

Perhaps. Ole Miss put 43 points on Bama when Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly was still healthy. Auburn nicked them for four field goals. A patchwork Florida offense got two first-half touchdowns on the Tide in the Southeastern Conference title game, which the Gators lost 54-16.

So good as Bama is, it might not quite be superhuman.

That said, Petersen gushed, "That's as good a defense as there is out there in college football."

Added Saban during his postgame press conference: "If you want to talk about the defense, you almost can't talk about an individual player. They all do a good job. The front guys did a really good job tonight (stopping the run), and then the back guys did a really good job to take their big plays out of the game."

Later, while referring to an article written by injured defensive back Eddie Jackson, Saban added: "That article epitomized the defensive chemistry that we have and how important those guys are to each other and how well they play together."

It's hard to see them playing together better than they they did Saturday. And because of that, it may be hard to see them risking much on offense behind freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts as long as they can make the opposing punter the most overworked guy on the field.

Said offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Tide's overwhelmingly defensive offense against the Huskies: "We felt like the defense was playing so good, we can only lose this one way — turning the ball over."

So they didn't. Not once. And the Tide rolled on, proving once again the best offense is almost always a good defense when it's as good a defense as there is out there in college football.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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