Washington running back Myles Gaskin, seen here against Washington State in the Apple Cup, will be a key player in the Huskies’ gameplan against Alabama in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. (Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times)

Huskies know Alabama is good, ‘but you can’t let a good team get you away from what got you there’

  • Wed Dec 21st, 2016 1:09am
  • Sports

SEATTLE — They call it the Peach Bowl, and Washington’s week in Atlanta will still include fun activities and educational field trips.

But Dante Pettis wants to be clear: UW’s College Football Playoff semifinal against the Crimson Tide is not a bowl game.

“I think if you look at it as a bowl game, they’re fun and everything, you go down there and you do whatever, you do the activities and stuff,” said Pettis, a junior receiver. “It’s just a fun little game. It doesn’t really mean much. But this obviously means a lot more than just a normal bowl game.”

There is little comparison to be made between this game and, well, any that anyone on UW’s current roster — or, maybe, any UW roster — has ever played. The CFP has only existed for three years. The Huskies are participating for the first time. Even in the BCS era, they were never selected as one of the two teams to play for the national championship. Even when the 1991 team went 12-0 and won the Rose Bowl, they had to split the national title with Miami, a distinction determined in unofficial fashion by two polls.

“We know that it’s not one of those games that you just go down there and have some fun,” Pettis said. “This game is serious.”

There is no point, then, in pretending this is just another game, particularly when the opponent qualifies as one of the best college football teams of the modern era. Alabama is 13-0 and favored by 15 to 17 points over the 12-1 Huskies, who freely acknowledge ‘Bama’s strengths — the nation’s No. 1 defense in both yards and points allowed per game, for instance — while maintaining the confidence that guided them to a Pac-12 championship.

“They’re good, but you can’t let a good team get you away from what got you there,” said UW quarterback Jake Browning. “So we’re going to do our deal. We’ll probably have some different tweaks here and there, just like we do every other week. But you can’t let a good team get you out of your rhythm that got you there.”

How good is Alabama? Good enough that Huskies receiver John Ross actually seemed to rankle some Tide fans by having the nerve to suggest that Alabama’s players are human beings.

In response to a question about observers dismissing UW’s chances of winning this game, Ross replied: “Good luck counting us out, because Alabama is human. Those guys bleed just like we do. They breathe just like we do. And we’re a good football team.”

And, for the first time this season, an underdog.

“I’ve always been an underdog, my whole life,” Ross said. “I still feel like I’m an underdog, (and) me and my team don’t get the respect we deserve. But it’s not about whoever thinks that. It’s about us, and we’re continuing to work hard every single day.”

ROSS TO NFL?

Ross, who this season became the eighth player in UW history to crack the 1,000-yard receiving mark and leads all FBS receivers with 17 touchdowns, is projected to be an early-round pick in the NFL draft, should he declare.

That decision, the fourth-year junior said, can wait.

“I’m going to sit down with the coaches, sit down with my parents and I’ll make a decision based off that,” Ross said. “I’m just so focused on this Alabama defense. I can’t get nowhere if I don’t (get) past them.”

HAPPY FOR SARK

Alabama announced Friday that ex-Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, who served as a special assistant at UA this season, will be the Crimson Tide’s next offensive coordinator. He will replace Lane Kiffin, who is leaving after the playoff to become head coach at Florida Atlantic.

Sarkisian coached at UW from 2009-13 before leaving to coach USC, but was fired midway through the 2015 season after appearing intoxicated at a team meeting. He later sought treatment for alcoholism and sued the school for discrimination and breach of contract.

Ross, who was a true freshman during Sarkisian’s final season at Washington in 2013, was happy to see his former coach land a new job.

“That’s awesome, man. Big ups to him,” Ross said. “Good dude. I’m proud of him getting back on his feet. It’s good to see somebody bounce back. That’s just wonderful, man.”

RECRUITING MATTERS

Alabama was one of several schools to offer a scholarship to Browning during his record-setting career at Folsom High School, though Browning said Saturday he never really considered playing for the Crimson Tide.

“It was kind of one of those things where I talked to them just once briefly and they offered me,” Browning said. “I kind of was thinking here (UW) already. I think I was like the 10th quarterback they offered, or something like that. I’m not even sure if I committed right there that they would have taken me.

“I think it was one of those things where they offered me and wanted to test how much interest I had. It was just kind of far. I wanted to play in the Pac-12. I think it worked out for them, too.”

Did Alabama also look at Ross, a four-star recruit out of Long Beach Jordan High School?

Nah.

“I don’t think they recruit skinny kids from southern California,” he cracked.