Alabama’s top-ranked defense, hailed as perhaps the best of the Nick Saban era, completely shut down UW’s rushing attack (44 yards on 29 carries) and sacked Jake Browning five times.

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ATLANTA — Sitting at the end of the team bench near the end of the game, Washington standout defensive lineman Elijah Qualls struck up a short conversation with Reggie, a security guard in a yellow jacket.

The topic: The Ronda Rousey fight. The night before, Rousey was knocked out just 48 seconds into her much-hyped UFC bout. Qualls didn’t see the fight but wanted to know: “What happened?”

Reggie used his hands to answer: “It was just pow-pow-pow,” he said, punching the air three times.

A minute later, No. 1 Alabama secured a return trip to the College Football Playoff national championship game with a 24-7 victory over the No. 4 Huskies in their national semifinal at the Peach Bowl.

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What happened?

Well, it wasn’t just pow-pow-pow, as many ’round here expected.

So much was stacked against the Huskies here in their first CFP game, here in the heart of SEC country. Nothing down here is bigger or greater than Alabama football, and no one down here ever considered for a moment that the Huskies had a prayer of upsetting the nation’s No. 1 team.

And, look, Alabama (14-0) was the superior team. No one’s going to deny that. But the No. 4 Huskies (12-2) came into the Georgia Dome expecting to give a good fight, and they did.

“There was no question for us about who we are as a team or as a defense: We know when we come to play anybody we’re going to put (forth) the best effort,” UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “This was about the best we could play today.”

That was the case, at least, for the UW defense, which did its part, holding the Alabama offense to 17 points and 326 yards total.

But Alabama’s top-ranked defense, hailed as perhaps the best of the Nick Saban era, completely shut down UW’s rushing attack (44 yards on 29 carries) and sacked Jake Browning five times.

“It was disappointing we didn’t move the ball better,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “We’ve studied every snap that they’ve had this year, and the tape doesn’t lie when you watch that much tape. I mean, that’s as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it.”

Things started out well for the Huskies. In the first quarter, Browning threw a beautifully lofted pass to the far right corner of the end zone for Dante Pettis, who had made a double move to get open for the 16-yard touchdown. That gave the Huskies a 7-0 lead seven minutes in.

The offensive momentum was fleeting.

The Huskies finished with just 194 yards of total offense — just 91 in the final three quarters.

They also committed three turnovers and didn’t force any on defense. Those are uncharacteristic for a UW team that came into the game leading the nation with a plus-21 turnover margin.

They beat us with our own game,” Petersen said.

John Ross III lost a fumble that set up an Alabama field goal in the second quarter, and Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson intercepted a short pass from Browning and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. That came with 1:13 left in the first half, when UW had a chance to go into halftime trailing by just three points.

Instead, Alabama had a 17-7 lead, which already felt insurmountable the way UW’s offense was playing.

“That totally changed the momentum of the game,” said Browning, who finished 20 of 38 for 150 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

The UW defense had really only one breakdown, but it was a significant one. Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, a 230-pound tank, broke a handful of tackles en route to a 68-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to extend the Tide’s lead to 24-7. Alabama fans accounted for roughly three-quarters of the 75,996 in attendance — a Georgia Dome record — and they had the place rockin’ after that run.

Scarbrough was the game’s MVP with 180 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

“He was a monster,” Anderson said of his teammate.

UW’s defense otherwise showed its mettle. All season, the Huskies believed they belonged in the conversation as one of the nation’s elite defenses, and that surely earned some respect Saturday.

The defensive line — led by Qualls, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines — were stout up front. Reserves Jaylen Johnson and Damion Turpin also played well, helping the Huskies limit true-freshman QB Jalen Hurts to 57 yards on 7-of-14 passing.

“I thought we played really elite defense,” Petersen said.

A year ago, the Huskies ended their season by celebrating a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, giving them a 7-6 record for 2015. A year later, they end with disappointment, but no regrets. They won the Pac-12 championship and became just the second team in school history to win 12 games.

“Obviously we wanted to win the national championship,” left tackle Trey Adams said. “But this was the best year of my life.”

No offense
Washington had 14 possessions on Saturday and produced one touchdown. The Huskies committed three turnovers and punted nine times, with six possessions resulting in three-and-outs.
Quarter Plays, yards Time of possession Result
First 3, 7 1:30 Punt
First 8, 64 3:51 Touchdown
First 5, 32 2:34 Fumble
Second 3, minus-8 2:14 Punt
Second 3, 3 1:34 Punt
Second 3, 0 1:04 Punt
Second 6, 28 1:03 Interception
Second 6, 14 1:13 End of half
Third 3, minus-5 2:06 Punt
Third 3, minus-3 1:34 Punt
Third 6, 18 2:42 Punt
Fourth 6, 8 3:35 Punt
Fourth 5, 5 2:32 Punt
Fourth 7, 21 1:29 Interception
It’s a long game
Alabama’s last four opponents, including Washington on Saturday, scored first against the Crimson Tide. Alabama outscored them 139-18 after the opening salvo:
Opponent and date Deficit Final score
Chattanooga, Nov. 19 3-0 after first quarter 31-3, Alabama
Auburn, Nov. 26 3-0 early first quarter 30-12, Alabama
Florida, Dec. 3 7-0 after opening drive 54-16, Alabama
Washington, Dec. 31 7-0 halfway through first quarter 24-7, Alabama