Penn State capped a special season with a resounding 35-28 win vs. Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
It makes some wonder: If there was a six- or eight-team playoff, how would the Nittany Lions do? No doubt, Penn State would be a very dangerous foe because of its explosive offense—which set a school bowl record for total offense—and underrated defense.
As it is, the Nittany Lions will have to be content with an 11-2 season with the two defeats coming by a combined four points in road losses at Ohio State and at Michigan State. A case can be made that Penn State has been the best team in the Big Ten the last two years … and has no playoff berth to show for it.
BEST OF THE FIESTA BOWL
Best play: This is a no-brainer. It was the 92-yard scoring jaunt by RB Saquon Barkley in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions led, 21-7, when Barkley took a hand-off and bolted to the left. As Barkley broke through and into the open field, Husky DB Austin Joyner appeared to be drawing a bead on him and had an angle. But Barkley blew by him and sprinted to pay dirt.
Best player: RB Saquon Barkley. No doubt, QB Trace McSorley was absolutely fabulous, hitting 32-of-41 passes for 342 yards with two TDs. And WR DaeSean Hamilton was boffo, catching five passes for 110 yards and two TDs. But let’s go with Barkley, a junior who mostly likely just played his final college game. He showed why many feel he is the best running back in the nation, carrying 18 times for 137 yards and two TDs and catching seven passes for 38 yards.
Best moment: It was great to watch Saquon Barkley jog onto the field, buckle his chinstrap and compete. Many top NFL prospects opt not to play in bowl games. But Barkley balled out and left it all on the field in what likely was the final game for a player some feel is the top running back in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Best stat: 12-of-12, Trace McSorley’s passing on third downs. And none was bigger than a conversion late in the fourth quarter with PSU nursing a 35-28 lead as it looked to milk the clock.
OFFENSE: A. Penn State’s prolific offense lived up to its billing, helping the Nittany Lions race to a 28-7 lead. There was terrific run-pass balance with Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley working their magic to help Penn State notch 547 yards. UW had allowed just one play of more than 40 yards all season, fewest in FBS. The Nittany Lions had two such plays in the first half alone. That basically sums up the dominance of this offense. Kudos to new PSU OC Ricky Rahne, who was in his new role as OC after Joe Moorhead left to coach Mississippi State. Rahne excelled.
DEFENSE: B. For the most part, Penn State sat on the Washington offense most of the game, limiting UW to 333 yards. Husky QB Jake Browning threw for just 175 yards, and RB Myles Gaskin had 98 yards rushing (69 on one carry). The Huskies threw a scare into the Nittany Lions by closing to 28-21 in the third quarter and 35-28 in the fourth. But that was as close as U-Dub would get. If not for three Penn State turnovers (two interceptions and fumble), this game probably wouldn’t have been this close.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. These really weren’t much of a factor. It’s worth noting Penn State didn’t let Washington’s Dante Pettis get free. He has an FBS record nine career punt returns for TDs, with four this season. But he was a non-factor today. One downer: PSU kicker Tyler Davis had a chance to ice the game with a 45-yard field goal with less than 40 seconds to go … and missed it. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Penn State snuffed out UW’s last drive.