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Bama’s Scrooge-like defense faces test against Washington

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POSTED December 27, 2016 9:22 p.m.

ATLANTA (AP) — Even when Jonathan Allen praises Alabama’s defense, he does so with a caveat making it clear that now is not the time to lower the standard.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide once again has staked a claim to having the nation’s most Scrooge-like group with a host of All-Americans, national awards and the rare defense with stats that can actually be called gaudy.
“When we’re focused doing our job, executing, communicating, running to the ball, having fun, we feel like we can be the best ever,” Allen, Alabama’s All-America defensive end, said Tuesday. “But if we’re not doing our job, guys aren’t communicating — just not doing our job — I mean, anybody can win the ball game. So I feel like it’s in our hands.”
And that’s just the way ‘Bama likes it. The Tide defense faces a significant challenge against No. 4 Washington Saturday in the Peach Bowl, a national semifinal game.
Alabama leads the nation in scoring, total and rushing defense.
Led by quarterback Jake Browning and wide receiver John Ross, the Huskies are fourth nationally in scoring offense. Alabama faced the national leader Western Kentucky in Game 2 (winning 38-10) but the next-highest scoring opponent since then was Tennessee, at No. 24.
Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said his team hasn’t faced a comparable offense among the first 13 opponents.
It was his answer when family asked him over the Christmas break, and when reporters posed the question a couple of days later.
“There’s no comparison,” Pruitt said. “This is the best football team we’ve played.”
Washington offensive players and coaches could easily say, Ditto.
‘Bama’s defense was so dominant during the regular season that Allen & Co. didn’t allow a touchdown in November. A touchdown-free November?
“I have never seen that,” Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said.
It’s not the only attention-getting statistic for a defense that is making a case as the best of coach Nick Saban’s decade in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And that’s saying something.
The defense has scored 11 touchdowns and only given up 14. The defenders have collectively won more national awards (four) than they’ve allowed rushing TDs (three).
Allen accounted for three of them: the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, the Bednarik Award and the Hendricks Award. Middle linebacker Reuben Foster claimed the Butkus Award.
The defense has lost two of its leaders, safety Eddie Jackson and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, to season-ending injuries.
But Jackson’s replacement, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is an All-American who moved over from a starting cornerback spot. Former five-star recruit Rashaan Evans, who’s played in 39 career games, is expected to replace Hamilton.
When those injuries happen, Alabama’s approach, as Pruitt said, is “it’s somebody else’s turn and they’ll be ready to go.”
Allen said Tide defenders genuinely love playing together. Pruitt said they do indeed play together.
“I think this day and time, it’s hard to get one guy to do his job, much less 11 guys to do their job,” said Pruitt, who was hired after Kirby Smart landed the Georgia head coaching job a year ago. “I think this group has been unique in the fact that not only they know what to do, they know how to do it and they know why it’s important to do it that way.
“And you can find guys that can do that some of the time, but it’s hard to find guys that can do that all the time. And I think that’s unique about this bunch is they can sustain.”
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More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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