The staff looks into their crystal ball for results against the Washington Huskies.
After such a long layoff, this is a game of ifs for Penn State. If everyone got healthy and if Ricky Rahne truly has a grasp of this offense and can throw in some wrinkles of his own and if Brent Pry is able to contain Jake Browning and limit Myles Gaskin, then the Nittany Lions should win easily. I don’t think all those things come to pass, so this may end up a nailbiter.
Penn State 31, Washington 27
Penn State and Washington both have great run defenses, so this could turn into a contest between Trace McSorley and Jake Browning. If that happens, it'll be a Penn State advantage because the Lions have more players who make explosive gains in the passing game. Penn State's pass defense has its weaknesses, but Browning hasn't been able to produce big plays with Austin Pettis this year like he did with Pettis and John Ross last year. That could help the Lions hold their opponents to field goals and give the offense some breathing room.
Penn State 34, Washington 27
Penn State’s struggles in the run game the majority of the 2017 season are well-documented. Add to this the fact that Washington has the top rush defense in the country statistically, and fans have a reason to be concerned. Offensively, as it has been so often this year, the key is not the All-American Saquon Barkley, but rather their somewhat under-appreciated quarterback Trace McSorley. What McSorley, Gesicki, and the rest of the receiving corps can do may make the difference. Defensively, Jake Browning, Austin Pettis, and Myles Gaskin will provide a stiff test, but I think Penn State does just enough in the second half to squeak by the Huskies.
Penn State 31, Washington 28
For no real reason whatsoever, I'm not particularly worried about this game. The Fiesta Bowl will feature two teams with stout defenses, but Penn State's offense is just better than Washington's. While the Huskies feature the top-ranked rushing defense, the haven't played a murderer's row of rushing teams either. Each time they've played a team with a pulse on the ground, they've given up yards and touchdowns. Despite the Huskies selling out to stop him, Barkley puts together a 100-yard day on the ground with two touchdowns, and Penn State wins walking away.
Penn State 35, Washington 24
Both teams are facing turnover on their coaching staffs, and both teams are a bit unproven through the season. Washington quarterback Jake Browning can really sling the rock but has struggled to do so this season. Penn State will need to be able to get pressure rushing just four, something they've struggled to do all season. If they don't, Browning will have a field day.
I worry about Penn State's ability to block big time DT Vita Vea, but the Huskies haven't been nearly as dominant up front as they were in 2016. I'm not convinced either team is really /that/ good, so it may come down to which team actually wants to be there. Hopefully that team is Penn State.
Penn State 31, Washington 26
I might as well flip a coin to pick the winner of this one. Both teams had playoff potential that wasn't realized, both teams have solid quarterbacks, both teams have solid running backs and a star receiver, and field goal kicking has been an adventure for both teams. Washington's D-line though is probably better with Vita Vea up front, but I am hopeful Trace will still have time to sling the rock or escape out of the pocket and pick up yardage through the air or with his own two feet.
This game is going to come down to whether PSU can get a consistent pass rush on Jake Browning. Thus far, they have been unable to do so when it truly mattered against Ohio State and Michigan State, but perhaps with a healthy Ryan Buchholz back in the lineup, that may *just* be enough of a difference-maker.
Penn State 31, Washington 30
Cari (originally appearing on PennLive)
The Nittany Lions haven't returned to early season form since halfway through their game against the Buckeyes, and they still only have two losses by a combined four points. There will be many, many thinkpieces touting the what-ifs of the 2017 Penn State football squad, a team loaded with talent and potential and so close to being one of the final four teams standing. But alas a gauntlet in the middle of the season, coupled with injuries, derailed the Lions' playoff hopes - but their consolation prize is a New Years Six bowl, one of the best consolation prizes possible.
The desert has been kind to PSU teams in the past, but this year's team is different in mindset and makeup. They have the ability to win big despite a near-even on paper matchup - but will they be able to overcome the loss of two coaching coordinators?
PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: the offensive line. Penn State's offense was jelling the first half of the season, through the beginning of the game against Ohio State - until sophomore tackle Ryan Bates went out with injury. Bates saw some limited snaps the final few games of the season but not in his starting role--and let's be honest, it wasn't imperative for Penn State to force Bates into the lineup against Nebraska and Maryland. But Washington is a different animal, and the Lions' starting offensive line will need to be at full force in order to stop a very good Husky run defense.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF … Saquon Barkley has a bigger day than he's had in a while. The UW run defense is currently first in the nation, albeit against less than stellar competition - and good running backs like Bruce Love still had good days against the Huskies. Barkley is the best player in college football, playing in likely his final game for Penn State. He'll ball out.
PREDICTION: This is supposed to be a close game, and though the Lions are slightly favored, unlike last year's trip to Pasadena, where PSU faced a squad playing only miles from their home, this is a road game for both teams. And though Ricky Rahne will be showing his mettle in his first game as James Franklin's new offensive coordinator, this isn't the first game he's called (Penn State's bowl loss against UGA two years ago was closer than it really should have been with a very green Trace McSorley having to step in for an injured Christian Hackenberg) - and UW itself will be without their offensive coordinator, as Jonathan Smith left to coach division foe Oregon State.
The framework is in place for a very good game, provided Brent Pry can contain future NFL quarterback Jake Browning - and I like his chances in scheming, with a return of Ryan Buchholz and a veteran secondary that rebounded very, very well against Maryland to end the season. Marcus Allen will improve his draft stock, and the Lions will roll.
Penn State 45, Washington 24
Jared (originally appearing in the Game Preview)
This is a tough one to predict, especially when you consider how even these teams are across the board. To add to that, Washington’s strengths line up well against Penn State’s weaknesses. They are strong in trenches, and have a quarterback with the accuracy and decision-making that can really hurt Penn State’s defense.
But Penn State is a darn good football team as well, coming up just a couple plays (and probably inopportune injuries) from going undefeated. The Nittany Lions will come back healthy and determined to send out the senior class (and likely one otherworldly talented junior) out with a win. It won’t be easy, and it will cause some new gray hairs for members of the fanbase, but I like Penn State to come out on top in what could be the most entertaining bowl game of the year yet again.
Washington does a nice job bottling up Barkley early, but he breaks loose for two long runs in the second half to finish with 130 yards rushing to go along with 50 receiving. Trace McSorley tosses for just under 300 yards and three touchdown strikes, including two to Mike Gesicki. Tommy Stevens also finds his way to the end zone. On defense, senior linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith have 13 and 11-tackle days, respectively, while Grant Haley comes down with a crucial interception in the end zone to halt a Huskies scoring drive.
Penn State 38, Washington 34