ATLANTA (AP) - Ryan Anderson no longer holds the unhappy distinction as probably the best Alabama defender without a touchdown.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide linebacker took care of that with a 26-yard interception return late in the first half of Saturday’s 24-7 Peach Bowl defensive throttling of No. 4 Washington. With a spin move and a short sprint, he joined that not-so-exclusive club.
Anderson is the ninth Alabama defensive player to score a touchdown this season, so his teammates will just have to find something else to give him a hard time about.
“They can’t say anything else to me,” he said after the game. “That’s all they had on me all year. They’ve got to get some new material now.”
It’s hard to find new things to say about the nation’s top defense, but nine players scoring a total of 11 touchdowns is a fair way to sum it up. (Freshman linebacker Mack Wilson actually scored while in the goal-line offensive package).
Alabama sacked quarterback Jake Browning five times, limited him to 150 passing yards and allowed the Huskies just 44 yards on 29 rushes.
A pretty typical day for the Tide.
Now comes the biggest challenge for Alabama’s defense all season: A rematch with No. 2 Clemson and quarterback Deshaun Watson in the national championship game in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 9.
Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 73 yards in last year’s title game against ‘Bama, which won 45-40.
In other words, he produced more total yards than Alabama has allowed in its last two games against Florida (261) and Washington (194) combined.
Washington coach Chris Petersen called the group led by defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster a “really, really elite championship defense.”
“We’ve studied every snap that they’ve had this year and the tape doesn’t lie when you watch that much tape,” Petersen said. “I mean, that’s as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it.”
It was mostly the same cast making the biggest plays. Allen was in on a sack and tackle for loss. A blitzing Foster pressured Browning into the desperation heave that Anderson swiped for a 17-7 halftime lead.
Minkah Fitzpatrick also had a pick in the final minute. Less heralded but steady cornerback Anthony Averett forced a fumble.
Alabama tailback Damien Harris can’t settle on one adjective to describe that defense.
“Crazy. Unbelievable. The best in the country, for sure,” Harris said. “The things that those guys do, they look like skill players. As much as they score, I’m sure they could play offense.
“They’re just so skilled, so dominant, and they refuse to let offenses score on them and move the ball. What they do has such an impact on the game, and it makes our job a lot easier on offense.”
But some Alabama players seemed restless or bored during the lengthy confetti-covered postgame ceremony on the field. It was a businesslike atmosphere in the locker room afterward, also.
The Tide is still seeking its fifth national title in eight years, not a runner-up finish.
“We’re 1-0 and it’s time to focus on the next and leave this behind,” Foster said.
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