Alabama analyst: Forcing top-ranked Tide to pass could be Huskies’ path to Peach Bowl win

Dec 22, 2016, 11:02 AM
Under true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, Alabama's passing game ranks just 62nd in the country....
Under true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, Alabama's passing game ranks just 62nd in the country. (AP)
LISTEN: Alabama radio analyst Phil Savage previews Bama-UW in Peach Bowl

The Alabama Crimson Tide are the top-ranked team in the country, the defending national champions, and they haven’t lost a game since September 2015. So it’s no surprise that the No. 4 Washington Huskies are a 15-point underdog in their College Football Playoff semifinal game.

Alabama’s dominance over the season could open up an opportunity for UW, however, and it’s all because of how little the Tide’s passing game has been tested.

Phil Savage, who has been Alabama’s radio broadcast color analyst since 2009 and is a former NFL general manager, told “Brock and Salk” that the Huskies’ 19th-ranked rushing defense could put Jalen Hurts, the Tide’s true freshman quarterback, in a situation he isn’t familiar with on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl on 710 ESPN Seattle.

“They’ve not really been put in a position where they’ve had to lean or rely on their passing game to get them back into a football game,” Savage said.

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The Crimson Tide’s air attack is one of the few areas where they don’t rank among the leaders in the FBS, sitting at 62nd with 227.1 passing yards per game. And even in the one game where you might expect them to have passed their way back into a lead, a 48-43 victory over Ole Miss in which they had trailed 24-3 in the second quarter, it wasn’t the offense that brought Alabama back to life.

“It was a punt return and a defensive score that got Alabama back into the mix,” Savage said of the Ole Miss contest, “and then they could just play a normal football game. So they’ve not been in a circumstance where they’ve been stopped on first or second down and had to play behind the six.”

And because the Crimson Tide have rarely had their backs against the wall in third-and-long situations this year, it gives the Huskies something to shoot for.

“I think that’s the goal of every defense they go against, is to just see, ‘Can we get them to third and 7 or longer and see if Jalen Hurts … can beat us with his arm?’ Most teams have not been able to put Alabama in that position,” Savage said. “I would think that that would be Washington’s No. 1 goal defensively, other than trying to create turnovers, is to get stops on first and second down, and then allow their pass rush and their secondary to just see if Jalen Hurts is good enough from the pocket to beat them in the pass game.

“Right now that is a bit of an unproven part of this Bama team because they just have not been put in that situation over these first 13 games very often.”

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Alabama analyst: Forcing top-ranked Tide to pass could be Huskies’ path to Peach Bowl win