PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Preview
Dec. 20, 2017

B1G BOWL PREVIEWS: Foster Farms | Pinstripe | Music City | Holiday | Outback | Fiesta | Orange | Cotton

No. 9 Penn State (10-2, 7-2 B1G) is set to do battle with No. 11 Washington (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 30 at 4 p.m. ET. The game will take place at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and air on ESPN.

The Nittany Lions are playing in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year under head coach James Franklin and making their second consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearance after winning the 2016 Big Ten Championship and facing USC in the Rose Bowl. Penn State is tied for fourth nationally with 28 bowl victories and third in bowl winning percentage with a 28-17-2 postseason record (61.7) among schools with at least 20 postseason appearances. This is Penn State's 48th all-time bowl appearance, and seventh trip to the Fiesta Bowl, which is the most of any bowl in program history. However, this is Penn State's first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl since the 1996 season when the Nittany Lions topped Texas, 38-15, on Jan. 1, 1997. The Nittany Lions are a perfect 6-0 in Fiesta Bowl games.

Washington will make its 38th bowl game appearance and its eighth consecutive trip to a bowl game. The Huskies are in the New Year’s Six for the second straight year and are the first Pac-12 team to play in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl since Arizona in 2014. Huskies head coach Chris Petersen has coached in one of the Fiesta Bowl’s greatest games, guiding Boise State to a 43-42 overtime win in 2007 over Oklahoma.

The two teams will meet for the third time in series history, as well as the second occasion in the postseason. The teams last met in the 1983 Aloha Bowl, which Penn State won 13-10. The Nittany Lions earned the series opener as well, a 21-7 result at Washington in 1921.

This is the third straight season a Big Ten team will play in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and the 11th Big Ten appearance overall – the most of any conference. Penn State is 24-14 all-time against the current alignment of the Pac-12 and 5-4 in bowl games.





Scoring Defense

Total Offense

Total Defense

Rushing Offense

Rushing Defense

Passing Offense

Passing Defense

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Penn State’s offense ranks first in the Big Ten in passing (285.8), second in total yards (453.3) and scoring (41.6), and fifth in rushing (167.4). Quarterback Trace McSorley is the top-rated Big Ten quarterback and among the nation’s top 20 in completion percentage (65.3, 14th), passing touchdowns (26, 16th) passing efficiency (153.6, 17th), passing yards (3,228, 20th) and passing yards per game (269.0, 21st). All-American running back Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has been a force in the backfield, ranking first in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in scoring (10.5) as well as 12th nationally with 16 rushing touchdowns. The school’s 14th unanimously-selected consensus All-American is fourth in the conference in rushing yards (1,134) and yards per game (94.5), and first in all-purpose yards per game (179.5). In the passing game, All-American tight end Mike Gesicki ranks seventh in the league with 4.3 receptions per game, while DaeSean Hamilton (62.3) and Juwan Johnson (52.9) rank sixth and eighth, respectively, among conference receivers in yards per game. The Nittany Lions have scored 20 or more points in 22 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in program history, breaking the record of 20-straight games from 1993-95. It is also the third-longest streak in Big Ten history behind the 25-game streak by Michigan State (2013-15) and 46-game streak by Ohio State (2006-14). One slight change in the Penn State offense will be the absence of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who took the Mississippi State head coaching job. QB coach and passing game coordinator Ricky Rahne has been promoted to offensive coordinator.

Defensively, Washington ranks first in the Pac-12 in total defense (277.4), against the run (92.3), and in scoring (14.5), as well as second in defending the pass (185.1). UW also boasts top-three rankings in the Pac-12 in sacks (3.08) and tackles for loss (6.8) per game. In the national rankings, the Huskies are first in rush defense, fifth in total yards allowed, sixth in scoring, and 19th in pass defense. Penn State’s McSorley will be the fourth 3,000-yard passer the Huskies have seen this year. UW held UCLA’s Josh Rosen to a career-low 93 yards, limited Cal’s Ross Bowers to just 80 yards, and posted three interceptions against Washington State’s Luke Falk. UW is second in the Pac-12 and 23rd nationally in passing efficiency defense (113.55), second in the league and 11th nationally with 3.08 sacks per game, and third in the league with 6.8 tackles for loss each time out. Junior defensive tackle Vita Vea was recently named the Huskies’ first Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year since 1996, having had 38 tackles (26 solo, 12 assisted) in 12 starts, with 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Those numbers might pale in comparison to Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa, but Vea clearly dominated the nation’s top line away from the stat sheet as well. Vea was double-teamed throughout the Huskies’ Apple Cup win against Washington State, but was still credited with seven quarterback hurries. He will be the Nittany Lions’ primary objective. Junior linebacker Tevin Bartlett is sixth in the Pac-12 with 12.0 tackles for loss, while freshman lineman Ryan Bowman is 13th in the league with 5.5 sacks on the year. Sophomore Myles Bryant paces the secondary with nine passes defended this year, one of which ended in an interception.

On offense, Washington is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (36.9), fifth in rushing (189.8), eighth in passing (221.8) and ninth in total yards (411.7). The Huskies rank first in the league and fourth in the country in completion percentage (69.3), first in the Pac-12 and fifth nationally with just five interceptions and 10 turnovers lost, while standing tall on the line with only 16 sacks allowed this year. With the solid protection up front, that has allowed quarterback Jake Browning to be precise with his passes and running back Myles Gakin to flourish in the backfield. Gakin’s 19 rushing touchdowns are third-best in the country this year, while he ranks 25th in both rushing yards (1,282) and yards per game (106.8). He also has 18 receptions for 228 yards and three scores. Browning has not put up the type of numbers he did as he chased candidacy for the Heisman Trophy last season, with 3,430 passing yards and 43 passing touchdowns. He has 2,544 yards and 18 scores this season, but has been precise with his throws, ranking third in the nation in completion percentage (68.8) and 14th in passing efficiency (154.3). His primary target has been first-team All-Pac-12 standout Dante Pettis, who ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in both receiving yards (721) and receiving yards per game (60.1), and has seven receiving touchdowns to boast as well.

Penn State ranks second in the Big Ten (and seventh nationally) in scoring defense (15.5), fifth in rushing defense (119.2) and total yards allowed (329.3), and eighth against the pass (210.2).   The Nittany Lions carry the nation’s fourth-best turnover margin (+14) into the game, which includes 14 recovered fumbles, also fourth-best in the country. The pass rush has also been impressive this season as Penn State ranks second in the Big Ten and ninth nationally with 3.17 sacks per game. Senior safety Marcus Allen was recognized as a first-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches and a second-team selection by the media. He is second on the team with 65 tackles and tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles. Jason Cabinda leads the team with 7.0 tackles per game, while Amani Oruwariye is fourth in the league with 12 passes defended in 10 games, which includes four interceptions that also rate fourth-best. Christian Campbell ranks seventh with 13 passes defended over 12 games, while Grant Haley defended 12 passes during that same span.

On special teams, Washington’s Pettis has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, breaking the NCAA record for career punt return TDs (9). He's the nation's leader in punt returns (20.4). PSU’s punt return defense unit is second in the Big Ten and 20th nationally, allowing just 4.29 yards per return. When receiving punts, Penn State’s Deandre Thompkins ranks first in the Big Ten with 14.5 yards per return, and also has a punt return for a touchdown this season. Punter Blake Gillikin is third in the league with 43.2 yards per punt. PSU’s Barkley, the Big Ten’s Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year, owns a conference-high 28.4 yards per kickoff return – 10th-best in the country – and two kickoff return TDs. Both field goal units have struggled thus season. UW kickers have made only 13 of their 22 field goal attempts, while Penn State’s Tyler Davis is just 9-of-16, having only made 3-of-9 from 30 yards or longer.