ATLANTA (AP) — For Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, it would be unimaginable to end a season any other way.
Once again, they’ll be playing for a national title.
Going old school on playoff newcomer Washington, top-ranked Alabama relied on a stifling defense and the bruising runs of Bo Scarbrough to wear down the Huskies for a 24-7 victory Saturday in the Peach Bowl semifinal game.
Saban isn’t satisfied. He never is.
“We’ve got more miles to go,” said Saban, who will be seeking his fifth national title in the last eight years at Alabama, a remarkable run that has stamped him perhaps the greatest coach in college football history.
The Crimson Tide (14-0) scored 10 points off turnovers, including Ryan Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown late in the first half, and Scarbrough’s 68-yard TD run in the fourth quarter finished off the Huskies.
Scarbrough totaled 180 yards and two scores, garnering offensive MVP honors.
Not bad for a backup.
“Whoever’s hot, that’s who’s going to get the ball,” Saban said. “He’s been hot lately and he’s going to get the ball.”
Seeking its second straight title, Alabama heads to Tampa, Florida, for the Jan. 9 championship game and a rematch against Clemson.
“We’re 1-0,” linebacker Reuben Foster said. “Now it’s time to focus on the next one and leave this behind us.”
No. 4 Washington (12-2) reached the College Football Playoff with a remarkable turnaround season after struggling much of the last two decades — including an 0-12 debacle in 2008.
But Jake Browning and the Huskies’ high-powered offense were no match for Alabama’s top-ranked defense , even after an impressive drive gave them an early 7-0 edge.
The Tide began to exert its dominance late in the first quarter when Anthony Averett stripped the ball away from John Ross on a screen pass. Jonathan Allen recovered, giving Alabama possession at the Washington 40 and setting up Adam Griffith’s 41-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Anderson made an even bigger defensive play with just over a minute to go in the half. With the blitzing Foster bearing down on him, Browning desperately heaved a pass into the flats for Lavon Coleman. But Anderson peeled off to make the pick, knocked Coleman over in the process and was off to the end zone on a 26-yard return that made it 17-7 at the half.
For Alabama, it was the 11th defensive touchdown of the season.
“That’s as good a defense as there is out there in college football,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “They played like it.”
Any hopes of a Washington comeback were snuffed out by Scarbrough, a starter at most schools but not for the deep, talented Tide. On a simple running play to the left, he appeared to be stopped by two players just short of the line of scrimmage.
But Scarbrough somehow managed to stay on his feet and — boom! — he was gone. Streaking down the field in front of the Alabama bench, he avoided another defender with a subtle deke, cut back toward the middle of the field at the Washington 30 and outran everyone to the end zone.
Scarbrough also scored Alabama’s first touchdown with a bruising, 18-yard run.
Washington was held to a season-low for points and yards, even after a 64-yard opening drive capped by Browning’s 16-yard TD pass to Dante Pettis.
The Huskies finished with 194 yards, below their previous low of 276 in a 26-13 loss to Southern Cal . That was also their lowest-scoring game of the season until they ran up against the Tide.
Browning finished 20 of 38 for just 150 yards. He was sacked five times and picked off twice.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had been a big part of the Alabama offense, but he didn’t have much of an impact in the Peach Bowl.
The youngster was 7 of 14 for 57 yards passing, with three sacks. He ran 19 times for 50 yards.
Saban, who won a BCS championship at LSU, has a chance to join Bear Bryant as the only coaches to capture six national titles in the poll era.
To some, he’s already tied with the Bear.
One of Bryant’s titles came in 1973 when the Tide was voted No. 1 in the final coaches’ poll, which came out before the bowls. Alabama lost in the Sugar Bowl to Notre Dame, handing the Fighting Irish the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press poll .
A scuffle broke out after Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interception in the closing seconds, leading to a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Alabama.
Several Washington players were shaken up while chasing down Fitzpatrick, but they all managed to walk off the field while the officials sorted things out.
Two Alabama players — linebacker Reuben Foster and defensive back Ronnie Harrison — headed to the locker room before the game was over. But they were sent off by their coaches, not the officials.
“They were taking some cheap shots,” Foster said.
No matter how the Fiesta Bowl turned out, Alabama was set up to face a familiar opponent in the national championship game.
A year ago, the Tide beat Clemson 45-40 in a classic title showdown at Glendale, Arizona. Two seasons ago, Alabama was upset by Ohio State 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, and the Buckeyes went on to capture the national championship.