ATLANTA — Run the dang ball, Lane Kiffin.
The fan base grumbled it for the last three years. Nick Saban has gotten into Kiffin’s face to demand it. Derrick Henry even added his voice to the chorus Saturday on social media.
After a few stubborn bouts of using Bo Scarbrough as a decoy in aborted downfield pass attempts, Kiffin finally caved. The result: Alabama gashed Washington in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
He ran through the entire defense! https://t.co/FGF82KATzv
BO. SCARBROUGH. ??? pic.twitter.com/2rHP9Tlw5Z
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 31, 2016
With that, the Crimson Tide advanced to the College Football Playoff title game, awaiting the winner of Ohio State-Clemson.
Scarbrough finished with 19 carries for 180 yards, jarring loose a defensive stalemate that saw JK Scott and Tristan Vizcaino trade skyscraper punts for most of the second and third quarters.
Scarbrough sealed the game on a weaving, 68-yard touchdown carry with 11:56 left. It’s about time, more than one houndstooth-clad fan exclaimed.
The run wasn’t quite Marshawn Lynch against the New Orleans Saints. But eight different Huskies had at least a chance at tackling Scarbrough, including a pair of defenders that forced him to put his hand on the ground for balance near the line of scrimmage.
“I thought he was a monster,” linebacker Ryan Anderson said. “I’ve been seeing him make those runs against us in scrimmages since he got here.”
Scarbrough also bullied his way for an 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and jolted through the middle on third-and-9 with Alabama backed up a few snaps before his long score.
“It was a little bit like (Derrick Henry),” Lane Kiffin said. “You felt like, ‘OK, our defense was playing so good.’ We were going to lose this game one way. Turn the ball over. Having Bo in there knowing he can make positive plays (was comforting).”
Bo Scarbrough leads old-school win
Alabama succeeded in bowling over Washington’s front seven in spite of itself.
The Tide probably should have seized control of the game sooner. Bama jammed the Huskies offense into neutral midway through the first quarter and held it there through the end of the game.
The team advanced Saturday in spite of Hurts, not because of him. The true freshman quarterback had a tremendous year. But in the College Football Playoff, he completed 50 percent of his passes for a grand total of 57 yards, got help from a teammate after a fumble and averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
When it has mattered, in the biggest of games, 2016 Alabama has returned to the form of Saban’s early days. That was true in a 10-0 win against LSU, it was true despite the score in the SEC Championship Game against Florida and it was especially true in the team’s third College Football Playoff win.
Alabama’s defense shut down the nation’s No. 4 scoring offense (44.5 points per game), holding Washington to a measly first-quarter touchdown. Despite playing a split safety coverage, guarding against deep balls and defending the Huskies’ RPOs, Alabama managed to stuff the running game.
And on offense, it was Scarbrough’s muscle that proved effective.
On the drive that sealed the outcome, Damien Harris and Hurts each rushed the ball before Scarbrough got a turn. It mirrored Scarbrough’s career thus far at Alabama. Mostly due to injuries, the 6-foot-2, 228-pound back has had to wait his turn.
“It’s very rewarding to see him have the kind of success he’s having, knowing what he’s been through and what he’s had to overcome physically,” Saban said. “He’s done a nice job of showing a lot of perseverance in that.
“Our game plan was to run more direct runs, and that’s one thing he’s done extremely well for us.”