Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: December 31, 2016 6:08 p.m.
ATLANTA — Alabama is heading back to the national championship game.
Bo Scarbrough and another stifling performance by Nick Saban's defense made sure of that.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide scored 10 points off turnovers, including Ryan Anderson's interception return for a touchdown late in the first half, and Scarbrough's 68-yard TD run in the fourth quarter clinched a 24-7 victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal Saturday.
Scarbrough finished with 180 yards and two scores, garnering offensive MVP honors.
Alabama (14-0) moves on to Tampa for a shot at its second straight title and fifth in the last eight years under Saban. The Tide will face either Ohio State or Clemson — who were meeting later Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl — in the Jan. 9 championship game.
No. 4 Washington (12-2) reached the College Football Playoff with a remarkable turnaround season after struggling much of the last two decades — including an 0-12 debacle in 2008.
But Jake Browning and the Huskies' balanced offense were no match for Alabama's top-ranked defense, even after an impressive drive gave them an early 7-0 edge.
"After we got into the flow of the game, I thought we did pretty well on defense," said Saban, who now has a chance to join Bear Bryant as the only coaches to win six national titles in the poll era.
The Tide began to exert its dominance late in the first quarter when John Ross caught a screen pass, only to have the ball stripped away by Anthony Averett. Jonathan Allen recovered, giving Alabama possession at the Washington 40 and setting up Adam Griffith's 41-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Anderson made an even bigger defensive play with just over a minute to go in the half. With blitzing linebacker Reuben Foster bearing down on him, Browning desperately heaved a pass into the flats for Lavon Coleman. Anderson stepped in to pick it off, knocked Coleman over in the process and was off to the end zone on a 26-yard return that made it 17-7 at the half.
For Alabama, it was the 11th defensive touchdown of the season.
Nothing could have been more fitting.
"We've studied every snap that they've had this year, and the tape doesn't lie when you watch that much tape," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "I mean, that's as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it."
Any hopes of a Washington comeback were snuffed out by Scarbrough, a starter at most schools but a backup for the deep, talented Tide. On a simple running play to the left, he appeared to be stopped by two players just short of the line of scrimmage.
But Scarbrough somehow managed to stay on his feet and — boom! — he was gone. Streaking down the field in front of the Alabama bench, he avoided another defender with a subtle deke, cut back toward the middle of the field at the Washington 30 and outran everyone to the end zone.
Scarbrough also scored Alabama's first touchdown with a bruising, 18-yard run.
"Bo's been playing pretty well for us the last three or four games," Saban said. "We wanted to play him more. He's hard to tackle. He's big and powerful. He's playing with a lot of confidence."
Washington was held to a season-low for points and yards, even after an impressive 64-yard drive on its opening possession capped by Browning's 16-yard TD pass to Dante Pettis.
The Huskies finished with 194 yards, below their previous low of 276 in a 26-13 loss to Southern Cal. That was also their lowest-scoring game of the season until they ran up against the Tide.
Washington scored at least 31 points in every game except its two losses.
The final two offensive plays pretty much summed up the Huskies' frustration. Browning was sacked for a big loss, and then threw his second interception on a desperation heave into the end zone.
A scuffle broke out after Minkah Fitzpatrick's pick in the closing seconds, leading to a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Alabama.
Several Washington players were shaken up while chasing down Fitzpatrick, but they all managed to walk off the field while the officials sorted things out.
Alabama will face a familiar opponent in the national championship game.
A year ago, the Tide beat Clemson 45-40 in a classic title showdown at Glendale, Arizona. Two seasons ago, Alabama was upset by Ohio State 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, and the Buckeyes went on to capture the national championship.
"Both those teams are great football teams," Saban said. "It's going to be a very challenging game for us either way.
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