Washington secondary takes 'pick board' tally to semifinal
ATLANTA (AP) The competitive fire that has helped Washington's defense lead the nation in takeaways is not used just against opposing teams.
Washington players also compete against each other, including in the secondary where the ''pick board'' tally will carry into Saturday's Peach Bowl semifinal against top-ranked Alabama.
The Huskies have 19 interceptions, including four by freshman Taylor Rapp. The safety took the team lead with two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in Washington's 41-10 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game. Rapp was named the game's MVP.
Rapp's more experienced teammates in the secondary aren't ready to give up on the season-long competition.
Clearly, this battle is serious for cornerbacks Sidney Jones, who claimed the prize with four interceptions in 2015 and has three this year, and Kevin King, who has two picks.
''We're a competitive unit,'' King said Wednesday. ''I think each one of us wants to be leading in picks. We have a pick board that we tally up and at the end of the year, we give out a little award for who got the most picks.''
With Jones sitting beside him at a news conference, King explained that the winner receives a football.
''You get your name engraved on it,'' he said. ''It's got the names from the prior years.''
Jones then cut in.
''Tell them,'' Jones insisted.
King continued: ''I'm about to tell them. It has Sidney's name on it, I think, twice.''
Added a smiling King: ''That just means he's targeted more.''
King's good-natured prod drew an ''ooh'' from linebacker Keishawn Bierria.
The star of the secondary is safety Budda Baker, a second-team AP All-America who has 65 tackles and two interceptions - two behind Rapp's lead.
''So this freshman comes in, and he's winning right now,'' Baker said of Rapp. ''We're all trying to one-up him.''
Washington is a two-touchdown underdog in the semifinal, but the secondary is one area where the Huskies may at least match the Crimson Tide's talent.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday the Washington secondary is ''sort of a little bit Seattle Seahawk-like.''
Saban said the Huskies' defensive backs ''do a great job of executing the things that they play. They do a great job of breaking on the ball.''
Jones appreciated the comparison.
''That's a big compliment,'' Jones said. ''Nick Saban's a great coach. For him to see that mentality in us, that's pretty amazing.''
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said the defense began to emerge as a force last season, when Washington finished only 7-6.
''As a team last year, we weren't able to finish games that we could have won,'' Kwiatkowski said. ''And so I know these guys took that to heart and that was a big issue in the offseason. ... These guys could feel and understand what it took to seal the deal.''
Washington's 33 takeaways, including 14 forced fumbles, lead the nation. Alabama leads the nation in total defense and scoring defense; the Huskies are 11th and seventh, respectively.
''They're very good,'' Saban said. ''They have length at corner. They're very good cover guys. I think the scheme that they play, they don't make a lot of mistakes.''
Baker stopped short of endorsing Saban's comparison of Washington's secondary to the NFL's Seahawks.
''That's cool,'' Baker said. ''... We watch NFL defenses and all that type of stuff and, you know, see our defense as a great defense, but we feel like we're Washington defense-like. So that's it.''
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