Football

Stout defense, timely runs carries Alabama in Peach Bowl win over Washington

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough (9) looks back as he runs for a touchdown against Washington defensive back Kevin King (20) during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Atlanta.
Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough (9) looks back as he runs for a touchdown against Washington defensive back Kevin King (20) during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Atlanta. AP

Bo Scarbrough shut the door.

Five plays after No. 1 Alabama started a fourth-quarter drive on its 2-yard line with a 17-7 lead over fourth-ranked Washington in its College Football Playoff semifinal, the Crimson Tide’s backup running back took a handoff and never looked back.

Scarbrough sliced through Washington’s defense, forcing at least a half-dozen defenders to miss their tackles as he ran into the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown that sent the mostly crimson-and-white-clad Georgia Dome crowd of 75,996 into a state of elation.

“Guys were just bouncing off of him,” starting running back Damien Harris said. “Once he gets a full head of steam, I don’t know if there’s anyone who can stop him one-on-one.”

And with the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked defense holding Washington’s high-octane offense at bay like it has with just about every other team it has faced this season, Scarbrough’s second touchdown of the game was more than enough to lift Alabama to a 24-7 win over Washington in Saturday’s Peach Bowl. The win was Alabama’s 26th in a row and gives the Crimson Tide an opportunity to defend its national title on Jan. 9 in Tampa, where it could win its fifth national championship since 2009.

“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, which you get at the 20-mile mark and you still feel like you’re only halfway there,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But we [have] more miles to go, and these guys are very committed to it.”

For a moment early, the Huskies made it look like the game would be a competitive affair. A perfect 16-yard strike from quarterback Jake Browning to receiver Dante Pettis in the right corner of the end zone capped off an eight-play, 64-yard drive for Washington to open the scoring.

And then the Crimson Tide (14-0) started running the ball. Quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Harris and Scarbrough ended a nine-play, 78-yard drive with seven consecutive runs. Scarbrough punctuated it with a bruising 18-yard run where he broke three tackles and carried two more defenders with him as dove into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

Alabama finished with 326 yards of offense — 269 of which came on the ground. Scarbrough posted 180 yards and the two touchdowns, a rare sight of offense in a game that featured 17 punts and 16 plays that ended behind the line of scrimmage.

And then the Huskies, the nation’s leader in turnover margin heading into the game, lost a fumble four plays later. That led to a 41-yard Alabama field goal.

And then there was Ryan Anderson’s 26-yard interception return for a touchdown at the tail end of the first half — Alabama’s almost-unheard-of 15th non-offensive touchdown of the season.

“They beat us with our own game,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.

Alabama’s defense forced a Washington offense that averaged almost 450 yards and 44.5 points per game into six three-and-outs and just one score. After the first-quarter touchdown drive, the Huskies (12-2) totaled just 123 yards of offense and had just six plays in Alabama territory.

Browning finished with 150 yards on 20-of-38 passing and was sacked five times. Arguably his best play after the touchdown drive came when he lined up for a fourth-down attempt near midfield and punted the ball to Alabama’s 2-yard line. Alabama marched down the field though and scored six plays later when Scarbrough slashed through Washington’s defense.

As Browning attempted to lead Washington on one final drive with less than two minutes to play, he heaved a pass to the end zone. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted the pass, and chants of “SEC” and “Roll Tide” echoed through the Georgia Dome.

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