Fiesta notebook: PSU defense pressures the QB
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The biggest question mark for Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl was whether its defense could get enough pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning.
The Nittany Lions were up to that challenge. Browning had been sacked only 16 times all season, but PSU dropped him for four sacks and got in his face on many other plays.
“It was an emphasis this week, obviously,” defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “Just feeling like we needed to do a better job in that department, and not just pressure, but coverage and pressure. I thought the guys did a great job.”
“I think we did a good job kind of spying him,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said. “We knew he was good at avoiding pressure. That’s kind of what he does is extend plays, make plays on the run. We knew we were going to have to keep him on the run, keep him uncomfortable, make sure he couldn’t identify pre-snap.”
The Huskies got two big plays that led to points, but other than that, Pry said, “For the most part they weren’t able to block our front, and that was the biggest thing for us on our side of the football.”
Hamilton excels in finale
PSU career receptions leader DaeSean Hamilton caught five passes for 110 yards and two TDs in the final game of his career.
“This is my last days here, just enjoying the time with the team and trying to document all the good moments we’re having,” Hamilton said. “And obviously finishing the season with a win it really means a lot. And it was really important to everyone on the team, not just the seniors.”
Givens has big day
Kevin Givens started at defensive end because of the first-half suspension of Shareef Miller, and the Altoona Area High School product wound up being a disruptive force. He finished with half a sack and four tackles (two solo), plus was involved in a number of other plays.
Safety Marcus Allen was named PSU’s defensive MVP, but Givens certainly deserved some consideration. He also played nose tackle and 3 technique tackle during the game.
“I was so impressed with him,” Pry said. “You talk about a young guy still, just a sophomore, that bounces back and forth between end and tackle week after week and within a game. He learns it, he doesn’t bust and he consistently shows up. He is a very explosive player, and he’s hard to block.”
Givens has a chance to be a special player the next couple of years.
“We prepared all month for this team, so I had a pretty good game plan of what we were going to do,” he said. “Everybody’s excited. I’m happy to send out the seniors on a good note.”
Asked if Saturday was his best game, Givens said, “I feel like I’ve made a couple mistakes, so I wouldn’t say it was my best game. You never have your best game.”
Rahne debuts as offensive coordinator
Ricky Rahne called plays in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, but Saturday was his first time doing so as the full-time offensive coordinator as he replaced Joe Moorhead. Rahne mixed things up all game and kept the Washington defense guessing, plus Trace McSorley’s success throwing on third down was the difference.
“It was great for me because I was able to get a lot of plays on the field and get through some things,” Rahne said. “Just a great job on third down, great job by the offensive line giving (McSorley) time, and he does a great job of finding time in the pocket and moving around when he needs to. All those guys believe in him, so they’re going to get open.
“I felt good, just with the preparation that we had and the tempo we were able to play with, and it translated into the guys being able to play fast,” Rahne added.
Rahne called the shovel pass a lot, five times, including two of the first nine offensive plays. The plays didn’t gain many yards.
“It probably wasn’t quite as effective as I thought it was going to be,” Rahne said. “We had to change it a little bit. I thought they played it pretty well, to be honest with you. The shovel pass is just another way to get a run play called.”
Rahne was in the press box rather than on the field and noted, “It’s because I was there all season. It was just easier for me to be able to organize my thoughts up there.”
More PSU suspensions
In addition to linebacker Manny Bowen and wide receiver/special teams ace Irv Charles being removed from the team prior to the Fiesta Bowl, defensive ends Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney were disciplined before the game for a violation of team rules.
Miller was benched for the first half. He wound up with three tackles, including a sack.
Toney was in uniform, but he didn’t play and was visibly disappointed when he left the field afterward.
Along with Givens, Ryan Buchholz started at defensive end but Buchholz suffered an injury in the first half and did not return.
It’s unclear whether Miller would have played at all had Buchholz not come up lame.
James Franklin attributed the decisions to “rotations.”
It marked the second straight year Franklin benched players prior to the bowl game as Bowen and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall sat out last year’s Rose Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry said the Lions’ next-man-up mentality was especially apparent.
“There’s guys that get an opportunity when something like that happens,” he said. “Time and again, we’ve had guys take advantage when their number is dialed. They’ve played well and helped us win games. That was the case again today.”
Get your tickets
Penn State sold approximately 9,300 of its ticket allotment of 12,500.
That’s about 1,000 more than Washington sold, according to the Seattle Times.
“Once again, Nittany Nation traveled well,” Jeff Garner, PSU assistant athletic director for tickets, said. “We successfully distributed the majority of our ticket allotment with many more Penn Staters in attendance.”
Bowls are typically reimbursed by respective conferences for unsold tickets.
Penn State appreciated its level of support as Nittany Lions’ fans outnumbered Washington’s base during the pre-bowl leadup and Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium, which has a capacity of 72,158.
Attendance was 61,842.
“We don’t have a breakdown of where are folks were coming from, but two straight trips to the west coast (including Rose Bowl last year), but we’re pleased with our turnout,” Penn State associate athletic director of communications Jeff Nelson said.
Stevens mum on future
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens saw a lot of action as an offensive utility man Saturday. He was asked after the game if he’s thought about his future and whether he will stay at PSU or possibly seek a transfer.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Stevens said. “Now I have a little bit of time to figure out what I want to do. But I tried to keep it true, worry about who were were going to play that week, what they were going to do, and ultimately be prepared for that opponent. I’m proud of myself for being able to do that and give myself a chance to be successful.”
He does seem to like the way he was used late in the season. He was listed as a starter at the “lion” position for the bowl game.
“It was really fun,” Stevens said. “I’m really happy to be a part of the game plans and be able to help out in wins like this. … I think there’s still stuff there that we’re going to do. I guess we’ll see how