I don’t know a lot about Alabama yet. I haven’t really gotten that far. I know they’re the best team in college football. I know their offense is pretty good (run > pass). I know their defense might be the best of all time (front seven > secondary). They’re big and strong and fast and do most everything well. They get after the quarterback, they stop the run, and if there’s any weakness whatsoever, it might be in the deep passing game.
But, before we really dig in, I think it’s just as important to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Washington Huskies. To get an idea of our strengths and weaknesses and take a look at how Alabama might attack us.
The Huskies have played in 13 games this year, winning 12 outright, winning 10 of those pretty handily. Unfortunately, the one game I missed was the USC game. I think that one is going to tell us more about how Alabama might attack us than any of the other 12. You could argue that by the time we played USC, they were simply the better, more talented team, and call it a day. If USC on November 12th was just better than us, and there’s no way we ever could’ve won that game, then Alabama on December 31st is sure as shit better than us, so we might as well not show up!
Let’s try to move past that defeatist attitude, though. I have to believe there’s at least a CHANCE the Huskies can beat Alabama on New Years Eve, otherwise I wouldn’t have blown upwards of $2,000 on this trip!
Here’s the thing – and I know this is going to sound totally obvious – but the Huskies are only going to go as far as Jake Browning can take them. Duh, right? But, where I’m going with this is: Jake Browning is the greatest weakness on this Husky football team.
Blasphemy! I know! I sound like a poor man’s Skip Bayless right now, and I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Every week, the Brady Quinn’s of the world who call these Husky games make the same points about Browning over and over again. And we get annoyed by them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. Which ones are the games where the Huskies struggled, where they DIDN’T beat their opponents by 30 points?
- At Arizona (win by 7 in overtime)
- At Utah (win by 7)
- USC (lost by 13)
What’s the common thread? Jake Browning’s passing numbers in those games:
- At Arizona: 14/21, 160 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
- At Utah: 12/20, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
- USC: 17/36, 259 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Browning’s numbers are phenomenal in every other game except the one against Colorado, and we won’t see a secondary that good the rest of the season. He also started off pretty ragged against ASU – possible hangover from the USC game – before pouring it on after the first quarter. All year, he had 7 interceptions, but 4 of them happened in his three worst games of the year.
So, yeah, I’d say Browning is the key.
The Huskies were able to enforce their will against the Buffaloes because we had the strong running game. We could do no wrong. Our offensive line absolutely had their way with Colorado. That obviously won’t be the same against Bama. The thinking is, Bama is going to do what the Trojans did: hold our running game in check. In that game, Gaskin and Coleman combined for 57 yards on 17 carries for a 3.3 yards per carry average. Falling behind in the first half, necessitating our abandoning the run, is ultimately what did us in. If the running game can’t get going, and our pass protection breaks down, will we have it in us to throw our way out of it?
My ultimate fear is that we’ll try to counter their front seven by leaning on the quick passing game. Lots of wide receiver/bubble screens and whatnot. I envision their secondary sitting on these routes, waiting for them, and crushing us when we follow through on them. We’ve got to loosen them up down field and do it early, or their defense will put the screws to us and it’ll be a LONG day for any Husky fans.
So, it’ll boil down to: will the Huskies have enough time to throw? Our O-Line is good, but they’re REALLY going to have to sack up in this game, at least to start. If that works out, and we can get John Ross in some favorable matchups, then it’s going to come down to how accurate Jake Browning is.
And, we’ve seen it all year: the under-thrown deep balls. Every game, multiple times per game. Browning is late on these throws time and time again. If he’d properly anticipate and throw his speediest-receiver-in-all-of-college-football open up the seam or down the sidelines, he’d have a LOT more touchdowns than he already does. It’s a testament to how amazing Ross and Dante Pettis are that they’re able to out-muscle these defenders for these jump balls. I hope they also bring their big-boy pants in this game, because they’re going to need ’em.
I don’t want to pick on Browning exclusively; he does a lot of things really well. He’s generally smart with the football, he’s very accurate on the short and intermediate throws. He’s dynamite in the red zone, he knows when to run when he has to, and move around in the pocket to buy time. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Browning, and that’s the cold hard truth. When Jake is on fire, this team is unbeatable. He’s just got to take that next step in his development: he’s got to step up in the big games, against the great teams, when the opponent is taking away all our other options and it’s all on his shoulders. If he can achieve that against Alabama, then he’ll have mastered the game of college football. And, once Jake has this game mastered, the sky is the limit for this team.
One thing that’s never really failed us is our defense. Alabama’s obviously got the best rushing defense in the game at 63.4 yards allowed per game, but we’re 17th at 123.5. Alabama bests us in passing defense as well, at 15th in the game with 184.5 yards per game, but we’re 22nd with 192.6, and we played an unquestionably tougher schedule from an opposing offense standpoint. The SEC passing games have nothing on the Pac-12 this year.
We’re going to need our defense to play to the standard it’s set and I think we’ll stay pretty close in this game. If our offense can put up points and move the ball on a consistent basis, we’ll win this game. But, if Browning struggles, and the run game is non-existent, and we turn the ball over, then our defense might keep us in it for a half, but Bama will just shove it down our throats in the second half and that’ll be all she wrote.
So, again, this game is all on Jake Browning. He needs to play the game of his life if we’re to contend for the National Championship. He’s got the O-Line, he’s got some talented running backs, and he’s got all the weapons he could ever need in the passing game. Now, he just needs to be on point and let’s go shock the world!