This Saturday, 1pm, we’ve got the Fiesta Bowl! Washington vs. Penn State. The shock of all shocks being that Penn State bounced back so quickly from their pedophile scandal, and quite frankly are better than ever. Or, at the very least, better than they’ve been since the 1980s.
In a watered down field of crappy bowl games so far this year, the Fiesta Bowl has the potential to be the best. Two great offenses, two great defenses, pretty evenly matched all the way around. I’d give Washington a slight edge defensively and Penn State the edge offensively. That offensive edge lies squarely on the passing game, because I think these teams are pretty evenly matched at the running back position, even though Saquon Barkley is the big name and the future first round draft pick. Myles Gaskin actually has more yards and more touchdowns, as well as a better average yards per attempt. You start to wonder if the wrong guy got all the national attention, but they start to separate themselves in the receiving game, where Barkley has 47 receptions to Gaskin’s 18, and 594 yards vs. 228 (similar yards per catch and exact same number of TDs). This is a little surprising, considering Gaskin is a very good pass catcher, and considering Washington has clearly had more trouble finding adequate receiving help under Dante Pettis. But, it is what it is; I think both of these backs have tremendous pro potential at the next level, and I think Gaskin can make up a lot of ground at the combine if he puts in the work.
Speaking of receivers, as I mentioned it’s basically Pettis and nobody else. It sounds like Hunter Bryant is back practicing and might end up playing, which would be a pretty huge boost if he’s indeed healthy, otherwise I honestly don’t know what’s going on here. My boy Will Dissly always tends to find himself wide open a couple times a game for big gainers, so hopefully we can count on that. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, appear to have a much more balanced crop of receivers. One guy has 51 receptions to lead the team, two other guys lead the team in yardage with 48 receptions each, while Barkley has his 47 catches. In all, 5 guys have over 400 yards receiving apiece; on the Huskies, only Pettis beats that mark.
Defensively, they don’t get much better. The Huskies give up 5.9 yards per pass attempt; Penn State gives up 6.0; both are in the top 12 in college football. Washington gives up 185.1 passing yards per game, Penn State gives up 210.2. Washington leads the nation in fewest rushing yards per attempt at 2.6; Penn State gives up only 3.4 (good for 14th). Likewise, Washington leads the nation in fewest rushing yards per game at 92.3; Penn State is 17th at 119.2. Overall, Washington is 5th in total yards per game, Penn State is 20th. Hence the defensive EDGE to Washington, but I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming.
Let’s compare schedules. Penn State played three teams who ended the season in the Top 25: Ohio State, Michigan State, and Northwestern. They lost to Ohio State and Michigan State, on the road, in a couple of close games. I wouldn’t write home about their non-conference schedule; the best team they faced was Pitt, who finished the season 5-7 (they also played the mighty Akron Zips of the Mid-American Conference and Georgia State Panthers of the Sun Belt). As for the Huskies, obviously a lot has been made of their schedule this year. They played two teams who ended the season in the Top 25: Stanford and Washington State, losing to Stanford on the road. I will say, however, that Fresno State briefly found itself in the Top 25 before losing their conference championship game to Boise State, and after their Hawaii Bowl victory over Houston, finished the season 10-4 and may very well creep back into the Top 25, so be on the lookout for that. The obvious black mark on Washington’s record is the loss to Arizona State, who are 7-5, fired their head coach, and play NC State tomorrow. I’m sick of obsessing about that game, so let’s move on.
In the end, this game is going to boil down to what most football games boil down to: quarterback play. Senior quarterback Trace McSorley (who has the kind of quarterback name that’s destined to hold a clipboard at the next level), has from the raw numbers out-played Junior quarterback Jake Browning. McSorley has 3,228 yards and 26 TDs vs. Browning’s 2,544 yards and 18 TDs. Yet, the yards per attempt are right about even (8.4 for McSorley vs. 8.3 for Browning) and the passer ratings are right about even (153.6 for McSorley vs. 154.3 for Browning). Much like the dual threat of Saquon Barkley, McSorley is also a dual threat, and generates his edge over Browning with his legs (431 yards and 11 TDs vs. Browning’s 40 yards and 6 TDs). So, it’ll be really interesting to see how the Husky defense takes to the challenge of not only a quarterback who runs well and throws well, but a running back who runs well and catches well. By this logic alone, Penn State’s defense has the MUCH easier job.
If I had to bet the family farm, I think Penn State wins this one. The only way Washington has a chance is if they keep their running game chugging along. If this turns into a battle of Jake Browning vs. the world – like last year’s Peach Bowl – I think Washington will get slaughtered. But, if we can get Gaskin going, churn through a lot of long drives, and get the job done in the red zone, we certainly have a chance.
I can envision Penn State running away with it in a blowout; I can envision Penn State winning a close one. I can also envision some scenarios where Washington wins a close one; but I just can’t see how Washington blows them out. If they do, so be it, and I will have vastly underestimated the Huskies once again. Also, don’t take this to mean that I’m rooting against the Dawgs; I want nothing more than to ram it down their throats and finish the season in the Top 10 once again, with some good, solid momentum heading into the 2018 season.
I just don’t think I could handle losing two major bowl games in back to back years, so getting my hopes up too high seems like a mistake.
In other Husky news, we pulled in the best recruiting class of the entire Pac-12 conference! Lots of 4-star commits, including two quarterbacks (one of which will surely take over for Jake Browning after the 2018 season), and three wide receivers (which is desperately needed, so hopefully they can play right away). I’m not going to get into the particulars, as these are high school kids and I absolutely don’t follow the high school game (I barely follow the college game), but we’re talking about a possible Top 10 recruiting class in the entire nation when it’s all said and done. We’re talking about players who have been coveted by the very best teams in the country. We’re talking about building upon a foundation of a team that’s already in the Top 10.
The sky is the limit for the Washington Huskies! Now, let’s go out and take care of business down in Arizona!