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Defenses on alert in CFP semifinal between No. 2 Washington, No. 3 Texas


A pair of high-powered offenses created the matchup between No. 2 Washington and No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl on Monday at New Orleans, with a spree of points expected for the College Football Playoff semifinal.

All that touchdown potential will put both defenses in the hot seat in a game that is a rematch of last season’s Alamo Bowl that was won by Washington.

Monday’s winner will meet the survivor of the other CFP semifinal between No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 8 at Houston.

Washington (13-0) is riding a 20-game winning streak that extends back to Oct. 15, 2022, and could have easily been ranked No. 1 heading into the playoffs. The Longhorns (12-1) had the season’s benchmark road win at Alabama and have won seven straight games, including a dominating 49-21 victory over then-No. 18 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game, to jump into the final four.

There’s plenty of evidence to substantiate the expectation of a shootout.

During the regular season, both teams averaged more than 469 yards of total offense per game, with Texas ranking ninth nationally and the Huskies 10th.

Washington, spurred by record-setting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Michael Penix Jr., led the nation in passing yards per game (343.8), while the Longhorns were more balanced, finishing the regular season in the top 23 in both rushing and passing.

The Huskies’ offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the best in college football; Texas counters with massive defensive lineman T’Vondre Sweat, the Outland Trophy winner for best interior lineman, and linebacker Jaylan Ford, who led the Longhorns in tackles this season with 91.

“I’m not going to lie, their D-line is good,” Penix said. “But at the same time, they haven’t played our O-line. They showed a lot of great things throughout the year. With their whole defense, they do a great job. Their coaches do a great job with their system.

“They definitely play good ball, man. But we’re not playing the 49ers’ D-line or the Eagles’ D-line. So we’ll be good.”

The Longhorns have survived a two-game injury absence of quarterback Quinn Ewers and the loss of running back Jonathon Brooks, who had 1,139 rushing yards through the first 11 games. They have responded by putting together arguably their best two games of the season.

So how do the teams keep the ball rolling after such a successful run to the playoffs? Texas coach Steve Sarkisian believes energetic practices are a positive sign moving toward Monday.

“Part of it was making sure that we did enough good-on-good in practice,” Sarkisian said. “Especially early on in the prep. That we kept the speed of the competitiveness, of what a game would feel like in a practice setting. Not necessarily to scrimmage all the time, but at the line of scrimmage, offensive line, they need to feel the speed and physicality of our defensive line.

“Our DBs need to feel the speed and the rhythm of our passing game because that’s critical when that ball gets kicked off next Monday night. It’s all going to be fast.”

The Longhorns are a four-point favorite despite being the lower-ranked team.

–Field Level Media

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