Penn State Football

Penn State football holds on to beat Washington in Fiesta Bowl

A look on the field as Penn State celebrates their Fiesta Bowl win

Penn State football celebrates their 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl
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Penn State football celebrates their 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl

It’s well-documented that Penn State boasted a 6-0 mark in the Fiesta Bowl entering Saturday’s game.

Make that 7-0.

The No. 9 Nittany Lions sustained a comeback bid and ousted No. 11 Washington 35-28 at University of Phoenix Stadium, completing yet another 11-win season.

In likely his final collegiate game, Saquon Barkley totaled 175 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns — including a stunning score that was the play of the day.

Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley guided Ricky Rahne’s offense to the tune of 547 total yards (342 passing, 205 rushing) with two touchdown passes of his own.

Despite three turnovers, the Nittany Lions outpaced the Huskies by more than 200 yards.

Player of the game

Trace McSorley: Although Barkley produced the play everyone will remember, McSorley put the Nittany Lion offense on his back.

The redshirt junior quarterback led the Nittany Lions like he has all year, completing 32 of 41 passes — and making his mark on third down with 12 completions and 10 first downs. McSorley also connected with nine different receivers and averaged five yards per rush.

Every single time Penn State needed a response to Washington’s relentless comeback efforts, McSorley was the man to provide it.

In 2018 — without Barkley — the onus will really be on McSorley.

He proved in Arizona, and all season for that matter, that he’s capable of doing it.

Turning point

Keep the clock going: With 5:20 left in the game and Penn State nursing a narrow 35-28 lead, the Nittany Lions were faced with a critical third-and-7 situation on their own 28-yard line. An incompletion would’ve forced a punt and given the Huskies great field position and plenty of clock to work with.

Luckily for Penn State, however, McSorley found receiver Juwan Johnson for a 12-yard gain and a first down. That kept the the drive alive and kept the clock ticking to a Fiesta Bowl victory.

Instead of having about five minutes to work with, Washington got the ball back with just 34 seconds. Had that third-down play gone the other way? It very well could’ve been a repeat of Ohio State.

Top highlight

Saquon’s sprint: Washington came into the Fiesta Bowl boasting the top rush defense, allowing only 92.3 yards on the ground per game.

Barkley got 92 on one play.

The future first-round pick, who shared snaps with eventual starter Miles Sanders in the first half, had only 23 yards on five carries at the start of the second quarter. He changed that statline real quick.

The back took McSorley’s handoff at Penn State’s own 8-yard line, bolted left for a hole opened by Will Fries, Steven Gonzalez and Juwan Johnson, and he was off. Washington safety Jojo McIntosh — the last line of defense — dove at Barkley’s feet 27 yards downfield to no avail.

The Maxwell Award finalist was free and in the clear, blazing down the Nittany Lion sideline for the longest run in Penn State bowl game history and Fiesta Bowl lore.

It was a signature Saquon moment, one Penn State fans have grown accustomed to.

Soon enough, a welcoming NFL fanbase will get to know the same.

Number to know

Third-down success: In the first half, Penn State couldn’t have asked for more on third down.

The Nittany Lions were perfect up until late in the second quarter, converting on their first seven third-down situations. On those conversions, Penn State traveled 142 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.

McSorley hit Barkley on the first third-down they faced and later on the opening drive connected with Hamilton for the 48-yard score on third-and-8. Barkley later found the end zone on third-and-goal, and McSorley hit tight end Mike Gesicki for conversions of 17 and 26 yards.

It’s not as if the Nittany Lions were poor on third-down prior to playing Washington. Penn State ranked 23rd nationally with a conversion clip of 44.8 percent.

Still, 7 for 7 for 142 yards and two touchdowns? That’s far better than anyone could expected.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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