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Know Your Foe, Fiesta Bowl Edition: No. 11 Washington Huskies

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Brush up on your Huskies’ knowledge before Penn State meets them for the third time at the Fiesta Bowl

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Fiesta Bowl
Location: Glendale, AZ
Home Stadium: University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the Arizona Cardinals)
Capacity: 63,400
Sponsor: PlayStation
Penn State Appearances in the Fiesta Bowl: 7, second behind Ohio State (8)
Penn State’s Record at the Fiesta Bowl: 6-0
University of Washington Appearances in the Fiesta Bowl: 0

University of Washington
Location: Seattle, Washington
Enrollment: 46, 081 (Undergraduates and postgraduates)
Home Stadium: Husky Stadium
Head Coach: Chris Peterson, 4th season, 37-16 (.698)
Conference: Pac-12 (North division)

Series History
First Game: December 3, 1921 (Penn State won 21-7)
Last Game: Aloha Bowl, December 26, 1983 (Penn State won 13-10)
Overall: Penn State leads 2-0
Current Win Streak: 2, Penn State

Last Season (11-1 overall, 8-1 Conference)
Last year, the only regular season loss for the Washington Huskies was to No. 20 USC in the middle of the season, with wins throughout 2016 over Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State, Arizona, No. 7 Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, No. 17 Utah, California, Arizona State, No. 23 Washington State, and No. 9 Colorado.

Washington was the 2016 Pac-12 conference champion after a 41-10 win over Colorado, leading them to a No. 4 CFP ranking and a berth in the CFP Semifinal, just ahead of then No. 5 Penn State, as I’m sure every Nittany Lion fan remembers.

The second loss for the Huskies came against No. 1 Alabama in the Peach Bowl, with Washington losing 24-7. Even though it was a decisive loss, the Huskies’ season still ended with a top four ranking, with Coach Chris Petersen named as a finalist for Eddie Robinson and Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year awards, and with numerous players nominated as finalists and semifinalists for awards and as All-Americans.

2017 Season and Last Game
Washington boasts a 10-2 season this year (7-2, Pac-12), and their only losses are to unranked Arizona State and Stanford, both road games. The Arizona game proved more costly than expected, with two starters injured for the rest of the season in left tackle Trey Adams (torn ACL) and cornerback Jordan Miller (broken ankle).

Midseason, Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith left the Huskies to be the new head coach at his alma mater, Oregon State. This week the Huskies announced that Bush Hamdan, Washington’s wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator, will be new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2018.

In the Huskies’ last game, they dominated over Washington State with a 41-14 win. The Huskies raged to a 34-0 lead by the third quarter, with the Cougars scoring their only two touchdowns in the fourth, way too late to win the matchup.

The Washington offense never slowed down, with 328 yards of rushing, even though they played most of the game without running back Lavon Coleman and receiver Dante Pettis who had minor leg injuries (but should return for the bowl game). Huskies’ running back Myles Gaskin ran all over the Cougars with 25 carries for 192 yards with four touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Browning was 11-17 for 93 yards.

Washington’s defense sacked Washington Stage quarterback Luke Falk five times and forced four turnovers in the rout, which ended the Cougars’ hopes for a division title.

Offseason and Recruiting
The Washington Huskies’ 2017 recruiting class includes some talented four star recruits, and is the nation’s 22nd recruiting class (fifth in the Pac-12) as compared to Penn State’s 2017 class ranked at 15th in the nation and third in the Big Ten.

In the offseason, the Huskies saw a number of talented players leave for the 2017 NFL draft including first round pick wide receiver John Ross III, and second round picks cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker, among others.

Washington’s offense has had some ups and downs this season, mainly in season-ending injuries, losing starting left tackle Trey Adams, wide receiver Chico McClatcher (ankle), then freshman tight end Hunter Bryant (leg). They also lost their offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, but the good news is they’ll have some coaching consistency with Hamdan’s promotion to offensive coordinator.

But Washington has so much talent on the offensive side of the ball that it hasn’t slowed them down much. The Huskies’ offense led the conference in rushing and scoring, and nationally are 17th in scoring offense (to Penn State's no. 7 rank), and 38th in rushing offense (as compared to Penn State at 62nd).

Quarterback Jake Browning, sixth in Heisman voting last year and the 2016 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the year, leads the Huskies offense with 2,544 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2017. He’s the fourth rusher for the team with 50 attempts, 40 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

Browning’s top target in the air is multi-purpose wide receiver Dante Pettis, who has 62 receptions for 721 yards and seven touchdowns and is the team’s leading punt returner. Before tight end Hunter Bryant went out, he’d played in eight games and racked up the second-most receptions of any Husky player (22 receptions, 331 yards and one touchdown) – and he’s a freshman. Will Dissly is in at tight end and has split receptions with wide receiver Aaron Fuller.

The Washington offensive line is strong, even without Adams. The rest of the line includes three returning starters with versatile senior center Coleman Shelton (who has started every position on the line in the past three years), sophomore right guard Nick Harris, 6’7” 318 lb junior right tackle Kaleb McGary (who is possibly a moose or a train engine), along with senior left guard Andrew Kirkland.

The o-line is making plenty of holes for standout running back Myles Gaskin, the top scorer for the Huskies, who has had three back-to-back 1,200+ yard seasons. For 2017, Gaskin has 1,282 yards on 208 attempts and 19 touchdowns on the ground (6.2 yards per carry) along with 18 receptions for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Tailbacks Lavon Coleman and Salvon Ahmed have also seen run time, with Coleman landing four touchdowns on 85 carries for 396 yards (and 12 receptions for three touchdowns) and Ahmed at three touchdowns on 60 carries and 387 yards.

Penn State is going to be up against an exceptional Washington defense that leads the Pac-12 in total defense, is sixth in the nation in scoring defense (ahead of the Nittany Lions at seventh), fifth in total defense (to Penn State’s rank of 20th), and lead the nation in rush defense (ahead of PSU’s 17 spot in this stat).

Penn State's been up against top defenses before (Michigan) and did fine, but this is one of Washington's best defensive lines and includes standout Vita Vea. Vea, the 6’5” 340 lb Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, boasts 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Junior defensive tackles Jaylen Johnson and Greg Gaines round out the experience on the defensive line, making up a killer trio.

Amazingly, Vea’s not even the team leader in TFLs – that’s linebacker Tevis Bartlett, who boasts the most TFLs with 12 (along with two interceptions, four sacks and 43 tackles).

With last years’ first-team all-Pac-12 star linebacker Azeem Victor out with a suspension, Bartlett along with the rest of the experienced linebackers have not missed a beat (or a beatdown, apparently). Ben-Burr Kirven is the team leader in tackles with 79 and is joined by senior standout Keishawn Bierria (40 tackles, 4 TFLs), senior Connor O’Brien and sophomore Benning Potota'e to round out the linebacker unit.

Earlier this season, cornerback Jordan Miller suffered a gruesome and serious season-ending leg injury in the loss to Arizona State. In just seven games, he had 23 tackles and two interceptions. While he’s on the mend, the rest of the cornerbacks, who are young but talented, have jumped right in. Sophomore safety Taylor Rapp, the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the year in 2016, has 55 tackles, and redshirt junior safety Jojo McIntosh racked up 43. Keishawn Bierra (49 tackles), along with defensive back Myles Bryant (52 tackles) are also players to watch.

Special Teams
Pettis will be exciting to see on special teams but a major threat. He leads the team in punt returns (22 for 428 yards) and scores on punt returns (four). Pettis is the nation's leader in punt return yards for 2017 (428), yards per return (19.5-yard average) and touchdowns (four).

Defensive back Ezekiel Turner, exclusively a starter on special teams and a defensive backup, has the second most tackles on the team with 52.

Kicking has been a bit of an issue for Washington, with returning senior Tristan Vizcaino making just 12 of 19 field goals (63.2%) but who is 44 of 47 extra points (93.6%). Backup freshman Van Soderberg has been perfect 10 for 10 on extra points but only made one of three field goals (33.3%).

Grown man and 23-year-old Australian punter Joel Whitford, a sophomore transfer from Santa Barbra City College, this season has had 37 punts for 1,533 yards for an average of 41.4 yards.

Check out more on Washington Huskies football at their SB Nation blog UW Dawg Pound.