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Nittany Lions made the best of 2017 with Fiesta Bowl win

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No. 9 Penn State got on the board early and often against the No. 11 ranked Washington Huskies in the 47th Annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

By Jarrod Prugar

 Coming into the game, the Huskies boasted a defense allowing only 92-yards on the ground per game. All-American Saquon Barkley ran for 92-yards on a single play, a Fiesta Bowl and Penn State bowl record, en route to his 137-yard, two touchdown performance. 

 At the half, Penn State had accumulated 367-yards of total offense, a total surpassed by only two teams against Washington this season. Those totals, obviously game in full games, not just a half. 

 The Nittany Lions would finish with 545-yards of offense against the Washington defense while only allowing 331-yards for an offense of the Huskies boasting Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin.

 While Penn State won by only seven points, thanks to some costly mistakes and turnovers, they dominated the game in several facets that the score isn't able to dictate.

 "I've been doing this long enough, I know if you turn the ball over you're going to have a hard time winning. And we were very fortunate to get away with a win with the amount of times we turned the ball over today," Franklin said following the game. "Something that we take a lot of pride in. We've been one of the better turnover-ratio teams in the country. And we just were a little sloppy with those things today."

The Nittany Lions won the battle up front on both sides of the football while Trace McSorley and DaeSean Hamilton hooked up for a memorable bowl game performance.

With the victory, Penn State moved to 7-0 in Fiesta Bowls all-time and 11-2 on the season. 

 "This (win) just means just getting Penn State back where we were, back where we're supposed to be, as far as we had a chip on our shoulder coming into this game," senior safety Marcus Allen said following the game. "I know the defense and offense kept on harping on playing our butt off and just remember what happened last bowl game. And I'll just say this is just fantastic. And I'm ecstatic."

Dominating the trenches

 The talk coming into the Fiesta Bowl was how good up-front Washington was on the defensive side of the football. 

 That didn't mean much to Barkley and he said as much after the game about how happy he was with his 92-yard touchdown run.

 "You want to know why I was really happy," Barkley said in the locker room. "Because all week we heard how good this rush defense was...They averaged giving up 96-yards a game, and we got 92 on one play. That's why I was happy, I was tired of hearing all the talk."

 Penn State's offense ran and threw the ball at will against the defense of the Huskies save for three turnovers by McSorley. The Nittany Lions had sustained success offensively because of their dominance on the offensive line. 

 The Fiesta Bowl was the offensive line's chance to shine and they did just that springing Barkley free for his monstrous gain while also protecting McSorley and giving the signal caller time to find open receivers. 

"I think it always starts like it always does is up front. I thought for the most part we protected really well tonight," Franklin said. "And we got a bunch of really talented skill players that if they're matched up in man coverage, they've got a chance to win."

Will Fries played arguably his best game of the season at left tackle helping the Penn State offense finish 13 of 17 on third down against Washington. 

 On the defensive side of the football, the front seven held stud running back Myles Gaskin and former Heisman candidate Jake Browning to minimal impacts on the game. 

"Defensively we were able to make them one dimensional. We were really able to suffocate the running game early on," Franklin said.

There's no doubt the Nittany Lions were boosted by the return of Ryan Bucholz at defensive end, but the surprise was him being opposite of Kevin Givens for a majority of the game.

 The d-end duo combined for five tackles and a half sack on the evening while Shareef Miller, who was held out of the first half for rotational purposes according to Franklin, pitched in three tackles of his own including a sack in only a half of playing time from the end position. 

 The presence of a front seven getting a quality pass rush boosted the play of the secondary as they limited Browning to a measly 175-yards and a touchdown while holding Gaskin to only 98 yards on 14 carries with the majority coming on his long run. 

 McSorley and the offense excel and excel big on third down

 Much has been made about the Penn State offense and how they're able to put up some big yards no matter who they play against. That is all well and good, but the most improved facet of the game for the Nittany Lions this season has come on third downs. 

"I thought that was something the last couple of years that we really wanted to improve on and emphasized it in the offseason," Franklin said of his team's woes on third down in previous years. 

 It was against the Huskies that third downs were simply not an issue for Penn State as they scored three of their five touchdowns on third downs while McSorley was 12 for 12 on third down completions. 

 "Our offensive line did a tremendous job the whole game but really on third down," McSorley said. "They had a different sense of urgency to themselves on the third downs. And then you've got guys like Ham (DaeSean Hamitlon) and Saquon, they did a great job separating versus man."

The Nittany Lions finished 13-for-17 against Washington Saturday night en route to their 545-yard performance.

McSorley to Hamilton was dominant from the outset as the signal found his senior receiver for a 48-yard score to get the game rolling then again on a 24-yard score to finish the game in the fourth quarter. Hamilton set a Penn State record with his fourth touchdown reception in a bowl game in his 110--yard and two touchdown performance.

What's Next?

The Nittany Lions head into the New Year coming off back to back 10-win seasons and look to build on their Fiesta Bowl win.

Hamilton as well as tight end Mike Gesicki, who finished with six receptions for 62-yards against the Huskies, will be heading to the NFL with Barkley seemingly not too far behind them.

For the first time in several seasons, Penn State is well equipped to handle departures on the offensive side of the football such as the voids those guys will be leaving behind.

McSorley will be back as will running back Miles Sanders, who while he's not Saquon Barkley, is still very good in his own right. Juwon Johnson will be back and many of the offensive lineman protecting McSorley will return in 2018.

The Blue-White game will take place April 21st and will feature five-star recruit Micah Parsons suiting up for the Nittany Lions for the first time.

With guys like Parsons coming into the fold, the future remains very bright for the Nittany Lions as they search for even more glory now that they are back in the national title hunt for good.

"This team is a team that believes in themselves. Starting last year, once we kind of got on a roll, this team believes they're going to win every single game they play against every single opponent," Franklin said. 

And you look at our season, there were some ups and downs and twists and turns and adversity. But these guys never stopped believing in one another. And I think that confidence comes from how hard they've worked and how hard they prepared and how much they've sacrificed to get to this point. They believe in each other. The coaches believe in them in more ways than just football."


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