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Fiesta Bowl Position Grades (Washington)

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One last time in 2017, folks!

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington The Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, it wasn’t the pure blowout we may have been hopeful of at one point during the game, but a win is a win, and when you take a step back and look at the stats, it was actually a very well-rounded effort from the Nittany Lions. I hope you all enjoyed reading these position grades throughout the season and appreciate all of your feedback in the comments section (even if some of you people can be so goddamn picky).

Anyway, for the final time in 2017...on to the grades!

Quarterback: A

Trace McSorley was en fuego, connecting on 32 of his 41 pass attempts en route to 342 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His first touchdown pass to DaeSean Hamilton was a piece of art work that would make even Bob Ross jealous, and Trace looked very decisive and in control the entire game. Kudos to Ricky Rahne for allowing Trace to sling the rock on critical 3rd downs during the second half when PSU was trying to preserve its lead and trying to kill the clock. Yes, he did throw a pair of interceptions, but neither of them were truly his fault, so I’ll overlook that and give him the solid A grade his overall performance deserves.

Running Back: A

It was so satisfying to see Saquon Barkley rip off one final highlight-reel touchdown run (Barkley would finish with 145 yards and two TD’s on 18 carries and 35 yards receiving on seven catches). The kid has meant so much to the program over the last few years as they were digging themselves back into national relevancy and for his own sake, he could’ve easily decided to sit out this bowl game, but that would’ve gone against his team-first character (heck, he still refused to answer any questions about his NFL future postgame, not wanting to take the spotlight away from a team win). Aside from being the greatest running back in PSU history, he is also one of the most humble human beings to don the blue and white uniform. He will be sorely missed.

Miles Sanders saw increased action, in preparation for his likely starting role next year. While he only managed 15 yards on six carries and had an untimely fumble of an option pitch when PSU was looking to step on Washington’s throat up 28-7 in the second quarter, he did reach the end zone for a touchdown. There will be plenty of time this offseason for him to continue his development, and the competition coming from Mark Allen, Journey Brown, and especially Ricky Slade should only help push him further towards reaching his full five-star potential.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: A

Much like Saquon, DaeSean Hamilton will be sorely missed next year. He may not have been the quickest receiver of the bunch, but he was the most experienced and sure-handed amongst them (he is the school’s all-time receptions leader, after all). How fitting it was then, for him to have both of PSU’s receiving touchdowns on five catches for 110 yards. Mike Gesicki also had a solid performance in his final game in a PSU uniform, grabbing six balls for 62 yards, while Juwan Johnson also caught six balls for 66 yards, himself. Thankfully, Juwan will be back for at least one more year, as the receiving crops sure could use a shake to go with Justin Shorter’s incoming bake.

Offensive Line: A

Perhaps it was the return of Ryan Bates to the starting lineup (albeit, at right tackle instead of his usual left tackle spot), or perhaps it was some new wrinkles Ricky Rahne threw into the run play calling that led to far fewer running plays getting blown up in the backfield. For a much-maligned group though, the offensive line sure seemed to play their best game since Michigan, neutralizing the nation’s top-rated run defense and making Washington’s 350-pound behemoth Vita Vea a mere footnote. They also kept Trace’s jersey clean, allowing only one sack.

Defensive Line: A

One of the biggest concerns going into this game was whether the defensive line would be able to generate a consistent pass rush on Washington’s Jake Browning. For once, said concerns were alleviated with the consistent pressure and four sacks this unit was able to generate. The best part is that folks such as Yetur Gross-Matos, Shane Simmons, Shareef Miller, Kevin Givens, and Ryan Buchholz all return next season, which should hopefully mean this type of performance will be the norm.

Linebacker: A-

Aside from allowing that 69-yard TD run on a direct snap to Myles Gaskin that everybody saw coming, this unit did a solid job of keeping Gaskin and the Husky running game in check. Shout-out to Brandon Smith, who led the unit with seven total tackles and an interception of a lateral on the game’s final play.

Secondary: A-

When you give up merely 175 yards and a touchdown through the air, you’re doing a pretty decent job as a secondary. Marcus Allen once again led the unit in tackles with seven of them (making him and Brandon Smith co-leaders in tackles on the entire defense) and was his usual ball-hawking self. Whichever NFL team drafts Marcus come April will be getting themselves a gem.

Special Teams: B

I hate to crap on any position group after a win, especially in a prestigious bowl game. Unfortunately, DeAndre Thompkins’ near disaster of a muffed punt early on (Thompkins did sort of make up for it later, with a 20-yard punt return) and Tyler Davis shanking a 45-yard field goal late that would’ve iced the game for PSU were not ideal. On the positive side: Blake Gillikin did average a decent 43 yards on his two punts, and kept Washington at bay, field-position wise, while Davis also managed to keep all of his six kickoffs in-bounds.