"The Seahawks have their Legion of Boom, so we try to create our little Death Row [nickname] thing," Huskies cornerback Kevin King said. "We try to emulate them, for sure. They're a great example of how to play the game."
No. 4 Washington's chances to pull off the upset of No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinals will hinge largely on turnovers. If the Huskies can do continue their successful run of forcing turnovers, they could make the Peach Bowl more competitive than most predictions.
Washington leads the country with 33 turnovers gained (19 interceptions, 14 fumbles) and a plus-21 turnover margin. Alabama rarely loses, but it has a minus-11 turnover margin in its past four losses since 2013, including losing five turnovers in the last loss (2015 to Ole Miss).
"We don't really talk about stats too much, but one thing we do talk about is that turnover margin," King said.
Practices with the Huskies become a competition among the defensive backs for interceptions. At the start of the season, the secondary divided into two groups to compete with each other at practice for picks. The "team" with the fewest interceptions after practice must do pushups.
All-American safety Budda Baker said his group has done fewer pushups, meaning more for the team with cornerbacks Sidney Jones (a potential NFL first-round draft pick) and King. They also compete for who leads the team in interceptions during games. Right now, it's freshman Taylor Rapp. The winner receives a football.
"You get your name engraved on it," King said at a news conference with Jones sitting beside him. "It's got the names from the prior years."
"Tell them," Jones told King.
"I'm about to tell them," King said. "It has Sidney's name on it, I think, twice." But King added with a smile, "That just means he's targeted more."
The camaraderie helps explain why the Huskies have been so effective forcing turnovers.
"I think as a team matures and they get older, they have a better understanding and confidence of what they're supposed to do and how they do it," Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. "They can focus a lot more on the details of the game, and that's one of them, just being ball aware."
The Huskies have finished in the top 20 for turnovers forced during each of Chris Petersen's three years as head coach. Washington lost star linebacker Azeem Victor to a season-ending foot injury on Nov. 13, giving skeptics another reason to doubt the Huskies.
"But we keep on coming with tenacity and we won't stop," linebacker Psalm Wooching said. "That's the thing about our game. We're tenacious. We hunt in packs. Dogs hunt in packs."
The Huskies have to force some turnovers against Alabama, whose quarterback, Jalen Hurts, has so far been a far more effective runner than passer.
"His passing, it's good, but he's a freshman and it's always going to get better," Wooching said. "I think if we can contain his running and get him to pass more, our DBs on the back can take care of it."
Said Hurts: "We'll just have to see when the game comes. It's my job to execute."
Saban said the Huskies' defensive backs '"do a great job of breaking on the ball.'' They execute what they're asked to do so well that Saban called them "Seahawk-like."
"Nick Saban, he's a legendary coach," King said. "I always seen him and heard about him growing up. I know he's a defensive back guy. I guess hearing that from him, that's high praise, for sure."
Said Jones: "For him to see that mentality in us, that's pretty amazing."
The Huskies like the praise from Saban. Now they have to show him first-hand for Washington to have a shot at the upset.