After a season of following the educated (and at times, not so educated) guesses of various writers, we finally know where Penn State will be playing this bowl season.
Penn State’s Record in This Bowl Game: 6-0 (Wins against Texas, Tennessee, Miami, USC, Ohio State, and Arizona State)
The Bowl Game: Fiesta Bowl
The Date: 4:00 PM, December 30th, 2017 in Glendale, AZ
The Opponent: Washington
Coach: Chris Petersen
The Matchup: The Huskies vault over TCU into the New Year’s Six thanks to the Horned Frogs 24-point loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship. Washington is coached by former Boise State head man Chris Petersen, who has two Fiesta Bowl victories to his credit, but has gone just 1-2 in bowl games at Washington. The Huskies have only defeated one AP ranked opponent, their rival Washington State, who they beat 41-14 in the Apple Cup. The teams’ only common opponent was Rutgers, who Washington defeated 30-14 in Piscataway in their season opener. Washington was also the pick to win the Pac-12 North and finish second to USC coming into the 2017 season.
Offense: Huskie quarterback Jake Browning was on many NFL teams’ draft boards coming into the season, but he posted rather pedestrian numbers in 2017, throwing for just over 2500 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. The junior actually threw for less than 100 yards twice this season, but Washington won both of those games (an October win over UCLA, and the Apple Cup rout over Washington State). Browning’s leading receiver is senior Dante Pettis. Pettis had 721 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, and his explosive ability will need to be contained if the Nittany Lions expect to come out with a victory. Myles Gaskin leads the Washington running attack, carrying for 1282 yards and 19 touchdowns, including 202 yards against Colorado, and 192 against Washington State. Gaskin averages nearly seven yards a carry in the second half of games this season, and over half of his production has come on first down.
Defense: Washington’s fifth-ranked defense allows just 14.5 points and 277 yards per game. Junior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is the team’s leading tackler with 79, while redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Bowman has 5.5 sacks, and three Huskies have collected two interceptions. What may be concerning for Nittany Lion fans is that Washington has statistically the best run defense in the country at just 92.3 yards per game allowed. However, while the Huskies held one of the nation’s top ten rushers, Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay, to 68 yards, they allowed 122 yards to Oregon’s Royce Freeman, and gave up 166 yards to Bryce Love. If the offensive line can open up holes, Saquon Barkley may be able to run wild against a team that has somewhat misleading rush defense statistics.
Special Teams: In addition to being the team’s leading receiver, Pettis also has four punt return scores on the year. Kicker Tristan Vizcaino is 12/19 on the year, but just 7/14 beyond 30 yards.
Looking at the Huskies, it appears as though their strength lies in their defense and running game. This means that like so many games this season, Trace McSorley and the opportunistic Nittany Lion defense will be the key to the game. If McSorley can get going, expect Barkley to get some opportunities to break it into the second level.
Rest assured, we will give you our full analysis and predictions in the coming weeks!
If you’re booking tickets, here’s a site with tourist things to do before and and after the game.