Nittany Lions need to pressure QB
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Five things to look for as Penn State faces Washington in what should be a fun Fiesta Bowl in the desert.
No. 1: Pressure QB
Both of these teams do a lot of things very well, but one clear issue for Penn State is that it often struggles putting pressure on the quarterback. The Nittany Lions can get away with that against a lot of Big Ten teams with weak passing games, but failing to get to the QB is what led to both losses this season (against Ohio State and Michigan State).
Washington does not have a weak passing game. Jake Browning and the Huskies do a lot things well, and protecting the quarterback is near the top. They allowed only 16 sacks all season, a very impressive number that should be a major concern for the Lions.
Penn State doesn’t have to sack Browning a bunch to be effective, but it must get in his face, knock him down when possible and give him something to think about. If he has time to throw, there’s a good chance Browning will light up the PSU secondary.
No. 2: McSorley’s time
I’ve said it many times, Saquon Barkley gets most of the attention, but Trace McSorley is more of the reason Penn State has a chance to win games.
That’s probably going to be the case again today.
Washington’s No. 1 run defense probably isn’t going to let Barkley run wild. There’s no telling how many carries/touches Barkley will get in this game or if James Franklin will limit the workload to keep his star back healthy, but even if he does carry a lot, it’s doubtful Barkley will run for 100 yards.
McSorley must have a big day through the air, and that could be tough because Washington only allows 185 yards passing per game. But for as much attention as the Huskies will be paying to Barkley, it will create opportunities for McSorley to connect with Mike Gesicki, Juwan Johnson, DaeSean Hamilton and others for big plays.
McSorley is a winner, and you can bet he remembers how last year’s Rose Bowl ended when he threw an interception that led to USC’s winning points in a 52-49 victory. McSorley will want to atone for that today.
No. 3: Be ready for anything
Chris Petersen is a sensational coach, and he went 2-0 in Fiesta Bowls while at Boise State in large part because he took risks, used trick plays and kept the other team guessing.
Petersen doesn’t have to do as much of that stuff now that he has better overall talent with the Huskies, but watching them a few times the past couple of years, they do keep things interesting with gadgets, misdirection, etc.
Washington matches up well with PSU on both sides of the ball, and if Petersen is able to pull out some tricks, it could be the difference in the game.
Then again, the Lions have a new offensive coordinator in Ricky Rahne, so don’t be surprised if he has some tricks up his sleeve that he’s been waiting to use.
No. 4: Special teams
If this game is as close as most expect, special teams could be a huge factor in who wins.
The Huskies have a tremendous punt returner in Dante Pettis, who’s tied for the NCAA career punt return record with eight TDs, while PSU has an excellent punter in Blake Gillikin who excels in ball placement.
If the game comes down to a field goal, things could get ugly. Tyler Davis and the PSU unit have had all kinds of problems this season, and he’s just 9-of-16, while Washington’s Tristan Vizcaino has been only slightly better at 12-of-19.
Don’t forget, also, that PSU special teams coordinator Charles Huff left to join Joe Moorhead’s staff at Mississippi State, so that could lead to an issue here or there for the Lions.
No. 5: Players to watch
PSU: McSorley is the easy choice, but the defensive line has to come up big today and get pressure on Browning. The Lions rotate a lot of linemen in and out all game, so having fresh guys in during the fourth quarter could be a big factor.
Washington: RB Myles Gaskin (1,282 yards, average of 6.2 per carry) is very good running and catching (18 receptions) the ball, and if he’s able to get going on the ground, it would make things much easier for Browning.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Washington 24