Penn State Football

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Reviewing Penn State’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington

DaeSean Hamilton happy family present to watch final game

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DaeSean Hamilton had a captive audience as he stood at his University of Phoenix Stadium locker, showing off his pearly whites after one more win in a Penn State uniform. Freshmen wide receivers looked on as Hamilton — a five-year veteran who dropped 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns on Washington — fielded questions about the legacy he’s leaving at Penn State.

His message to guys like rookie receivers KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer?

“That hard work is going to pay off on Saturdays, no matter what’s happening in the present,” Hamilton said. He knew that better than anyone in Penn State’s locker room Saturday night.

Everyone knows Hamilton’s story.

The 82-catch, Big Ten-leading freshman campaign. The severe production dip as a sophomore and junior. The touchdown drop at Pitt in 2016.

Hamilton has been through a lot, but he never wavered.

“I had two down seasons,” the Virginia native added, “but I didn’t stop working the way I knew how to work.”

And it paid off.

Hamilton became Penn State’s all-time leading receiver in September, passing Deon Butler’s record of 179 catches. When the clock hit zero on the videoboard in Glendale, his career total came in at 214.

But Hamilton’s lasting impact on the Penn State program is bigger than numbers in a phantom record book. Each and every day, he set an example.

As Hamilton moves on, it will be up to his aspiring peers to continue what he started.

“He established a legacy in that room that’s going to go on for years and years and years,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said as his eyes welled. “Nine years from now, he’s going to look at the wide receivers at Penn State, see how they’re hard working and always prepared, and he’s going to know that that’s his legacy.”

Added Hamilton: “I’m not the fastest guy, not the biggest guy, not the strongest guy, but I’m working harder than everyone in the country. At least, that’s my mindset. As long as I’m doing that, and I’m bringing along guys with me, they’re going to carry that legacy on, as well.”

Good

▪  Marcus Allen’s last public appearance as a Nittany Lion was him dancing on the Fiesta Bowl pop-up stage.

After receiving the defensive MVP trophy, Allen — not able to contain his famously infectious smile — didn’t bask in the individual nature of the award. He credited everyone from defensive coordinator Brent Pry to his teammates.

But the honor was his, and he fully deserved it.

Allen had seven tackles, which tied a team-high. His six solo stops were the most by a Nittany Lion.

Even though the numbers weren’t overly absurd, Allen’s presence was felt. Four of his seven tackles were stopping either running back Myles Gaskin or wide receiver Dante Pettis in space. Both of those players have the speed and shiftiness to house it any time the ball is in their grasps.

Allen — like he did for years — did his job Saturday and had fun in the process.

That kind of player and person is tough to replace.

▪  What a debut it was for Rahne.

The recently promoted offensive coordinator didn’t miss a beat taking over for Joe Moorhead, who took Mississippi State’s head coaching gig a month ago. Rahne struck a balance between the pass (41 attempts) and run (38) and involved Tommy Stevens from the get-go.

Those shovel passes can probably be scrapped from the playbook; the close-quarters pitches didn’t really work and actually caused a fumble.

But outside of that, Rahne called a masterful game, a positive first foot forward into 2018.

▪  Miles Sanders’ involvement throughout the game was important and well-handled.

Sanders — the heir apparent to Saquon Barkley — alternated series in the first half with the Maxwell Award finalist and did just fine. He scored on a powerful goal-line run and picked up a necessary block on Trace McSorley’s opening-drive touchdown pass.

But the biggest thing that stood out? Three of Sanders’ six carries came on the Nittany Lions’ final drive as they tried to bleed the clock down and secure a victory.

The fact that the coaching staff trusted Sanders not to fumble in that situation was telling.

Bad

▪  Tyler Davis was put in an awkward, tough situation.

He should have lined up to kick a game-winning 40-yard kick. Instead, he was forced to come in, be the hero and make a 45-yarder.

Franklin decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 to end the game instead of trotting Davis out there with 38 seconds remaining. Franklin said after the game that his offense was going to run the ball and “felt like we had a really good call.”

But it didn’t work out. Washington’s defensive front shifted, and Brendan Mahon, Penn State’s senior guard, reacted poorly. The false start penalty pushed the Nittany Lions back five yards — a crucial mistake that Mahon later owned up to.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Penn State won the game thanks to a baffling hook-and-ladder throwback by Washington.

But after being passed on for a 40-yard field goal seconds earlier, Davis was put in an bad spot.

▪  The absences of defensive ends Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney were less-than-ideal.

Miller missed the first half, and Toney didn’t play at all. The ESPN broadcast said both were suspended, while Franklin said simply, “That was the rotation we had for the game.”

Miller, who started every game in the regular season, made an impact in the second with a sack.

But the Nittany Lion pass rush — tasked with chasing down Washington quarterback Jake Browning — could have used Miller earlier. And any snaps from Toney would’ve been welcomed.

Ugly

▪  Referees are never going to get every call correct.

But how was Washington’s Ezekiel Turner not flagged for targeting after hitting McSorley way late in the first quarter? And how was it not so much as reviewed after the fact?

McSorley scrambled for 12 yards and gave himself up, sliding feet first — which provides him protections as a defenseless quarterback.

Sometimes it can be tough to pull up mid-tackle. But judging by the real-time look and replay, Turner could’ve avoided driving his right shoulder into McSorley’s head.

The quarterback, who was slow to get up, probably should have been evaluated for a concussion. Instead, he stayed in the game.

Dicey situation all the way around.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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