Some players’ efforts were impossible to ignore during Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl.
Fans were treated to a memorable 175-yard night from Saquon Barkley (137 rushing, 38 receiving), an MVP performance from Trace McSorley and a two-touchdown effort from DaeSean Hamilton. Safety Marcus Allen also impressed with defensive MVP honors. But there are plenty of other players who contributed heavily to the win — some players who aren’t quite as obvious as that quartet.
Saturday’s win may have been a team effort. But some players deserve a little extra recognition, so we decided to ask: Who is Penn State’s unsung hero?
Ryne Gery: Wide receiver Juwan Johnson
Without Johnson, it could’ve been a different finish for Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.
Johnson finished second on the team in both receptions (six) and receiving yards (66). Though he didn’t haul in a touchdown pass, he made some crucial grabs to help the Nittany Lions hold off Washington in the second half.
Johnson’s 11-yard catch on third-and-7 in the third quarter played a part in setting up DaeSean Hamilton’s 24-yard touchdown to give Penn State a 35-21 lead. And after the Huskies pulled within 35-28 in the fourth quarter, Johnson pulled in a 12-yard pass on third-and-7 with more than five minutes left — a catch that allowed Penn State to continue to kill the clock on their way to the win.
Josh Moyer: Center Connor McGovern
I can’t say he was necessarily the best offensive lineman on the field for Penn State — but that doesn’t matter. He went up against one of the best interior defensive lines that the Nittany Lions have faced all season. And he held his own.
James Franklin said before the game that the “biggest challenge” was how the Nittany Lions would fare against Washington’s 340-pound Vita Vea and 322-pound Greg Gaines. And McGovern helped to ensure the pair combined for zero stops in the backfield.
Not only that but, on Saquon Barkley’s 92-yard touchdown run, McGovern made a huge block in the second level to spring the star back. Without McGovern, that might’ve been about a six-yard scramble. So McGovern deserves a lot of credit here; he’s the definition of an unsung hero.
John McGonigal: Tight end Mike Gesicki
I hate to stick with the offense here — the pass rush pressured Jake Browning and brought him down four times — but no one player stood out enough to warrant the recognition. Plus, when a team puts up 545 yards of offense, it’s probably okay to stick with those guys.
So Gesicki, who had six catches for 62 yards, is my pick.
Four of the tight end’s catches went for first downs. One went for 26 yards, another was 17, and a 7-yarder was followed up by Saquon Barkley’s short first-quarter touchdown run.
He didn’t score in the Fiesta Bowl, snapping a three-game streak of finding the end zone. But Gesicki’s reliability can’t be overstated.