Rapid Reaction: Pick-six, Scarbrough carry Alabama past Washington and into national title game
When Alabama needed a big play, it found one in a familiar place.
Ryan Anderson stepped in front of a Jake Browning pass just before halftime and took it 26 yards for Alabama’s 11th defensive touchdown of the season.
Anderson’s pick-six provided a huge momentum swing for the Crimson Tide, who took a 17-7 lead into halftime and extended that lead in the second half for a 24-7 victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl national semifinal.
It wasn’t the dominant performance many expected, but Alabama proved it could win with patience just as easily as it wins with overwhelming talent.
What it means: With the win, Alabama (14-0) earned a spot in the College Football Playoff Championship Game for the second year in a row. The Crimson Tide will await the winner of Saturday night’s game between Clemson and Ohio State. They are trying to win their second consecutive and fifth national championship during Nick Saban’s decade of dominance.
What I liked
Bo Scarbrough: Alabama’s backup running back has drawn comparisons to Derrick Henry, and he backed them up Saturday. In the first quarter, Scarbrough seemed to be running with a different intensity than anyone else. His 18-yard touchdown run was a singular effort that helped spark the Tide. He finished the first half with 9 carries for 80 yards – a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt – and the touchdown.
He was even more dominant in the second half. With Alabama facing third down on its 3-yard line, Scarbrough broke off a 12-yard run to pick up a crucial first down. Three plays later, Scarbrough broke free for a 68-yard touchdown run that provided the kill shot the Crimson Tide had been waiting for.
He finished with a career-high 180 yards.
Pick-six before halftime: In the SEC Championship Game, it was Alabama’s defense that provided the points while its offense struggled in the first quarter. Against Washington, it was the pick-six by Anderson with just over a minute remaining in the first half swung the momentum mightily. At any moment, Alabama can put points on the board, which is easily its greatest strength.
Alabama pass rush: Alabama entered with 45 sacks. After Washington scored the first touchdown of the game, the Crimson Tide’s pass rush kicked into gear. Alabama finished with five sacks and never allowed Browning to become comfortable in the pocket. Washington had six three-and-outs in the game, and the Crimson Tide’s pass rush was a big reason.
What I didn’t like
First-half offensive strategy: A common point of frustration for Alabama fans is Lane Kiffin’s love of throwing the ball. The Crimson Tide actually ran the ball 25 times, compared to just nine pass attempts, but several of those carries came on Jalen Hurts’ scrambles. Scarbrough was the Crimson Tide’s best source of offense, averaging nearly nine yards per carry in the first half, but he wasn’t utilized enough.
Pass protection: It’s not often that an opponent penetrates the Alabama backfield, but Washington had plenty of success in the first half. The Huskies had three sacks before halftime, and forced Hurts out of the pocket on multiple occasions. Washington’s pressure prevented Alabama’s offense from getting into a rhythm.
Too many 3rd-and-longs: Alabama has excelled at staying in manageable third-down situations this season, but that wasn’t the case for much of the game. The Crimson Tide’s average yards to gain on third down in the first half was 8.9. On their first possession of the second half, they stalled after facing a third-and-17.
Who’s the man: Scarbrough provided the offense for Alabama, which largely offset an off day from Hurts. With little else working for the Crimson Tide, Scarbrough’s 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach and was the signature moment of a great individual performance.
Key play: Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown with 1:13 left in the first half was a big swing. Washington had the opportunity to tie or take the lead on what should have been the final possession of the first half. At the very least, the Huskies looked set to head into halftime down 10-7 and feeling confident about its performance. Instead, Browning made an ill-advised throw and Anderson converted the 7-point swing.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama for Saturday Down South. For insight on these two SEC powerhouses, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.