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Fiesta Bowl 2017: Big plays not enough for Washington to overcome Penn State

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Two interceptions and a fumble recovery couldn’t bring UW past third-down struggles

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Washington couldn’t have gotten themselves off to a much worse start but several big plays were able to keep the score close, as the final margin of 35-28 wasn’t indicative of how much better Penn State was on this New Year’s Eve eve.

The Huskies struggled putting themselves in a position to score points, as the defense could not get off the field on third downs and the offense’s first seven plays totaled negative yardage. Penn State converted third down after third down, with Trace McSorley fitting the ball into tight windows and buying time against three-man fronts for the Huskies.

Fortunately for Washington, the offense still showed a bit of life. A double pass from not-Dante Pettis to Will Dissly resulted in 52 yards to jump start the offense and lead to the first score for the Dawgs, a sneak for Jake the Snake.

The defensive struggles for UW continued throughout the half. The only stop Washington generated before the waning moments of the second quarter was a toe-dragging interception by Byron Murphy. Saquon Barkley and McSorley were unstoppable when push came to shove, with the UW D-line failing to penetrate to make either uncomfortable.

Barkley showed what the hype is about with a long run where he beat a strong angle by JoJo McIntosh and outran (barely) Austin Joyner en route to six points. Joyner and fellow cornerback Myles Bryant each struggled and were beat for multiple big plays each.

Penn State’s 28-7 lead didn’t stick around, as Matt Lubick started to get his footing as Washington’s playcaller. UW’s final real attempt at a drive in the first half was a touchdown set up by a fumble, with the Dawgs going 33 yards in six plays.

To open the second half, Washington put together its best drive of the day: 13 plays, 80 yards and a touchdown to Aaron Fuller. The response by James Franklin’s offense matched it, however. Seventy yards in eight plays for the Nittany Lions resulted in a touchdown.

Washinton’s defense started to stiffen up late, with a McSorley pass doinking off the helmet of Ben Burr-Kirven into the arms of Austin Joyner. The Dawgs defense was able to stifle anything significant in the second half after the 70-yard drive until the final drive for Penn State, who made it 13 plays and took over six minutes off the clock to nearly salt the game away.

Washington’s final play was a promising hook and lateral but Dante Pettis pitched it back to the wrong team in a decision that has been heavily debated in the UWDP Slack. Ultimately the final score was 35-28 in favor of Penn State in a game that wasn’t really that close.

Final Dots of the season:

  • Pete Kwiatkowski was outclassed with playcalling. Dominance on third and longs (what Penn State was in frequently) usually is a result of a combination of two things: great protection and winning the battle of the coordinators. The defensive line wasn’t able to generate pressure with three rushers and blitzes were always picked up. Washington had only a single sack and wasn’t able to affect the quarterback to a significant degree.
  • Big plays were the only reason that Washington was able to stick around. The final score didn’t indicate the down-to-down dominance that Penn State had. The final tallies for third down conversions was the determining factor in the game, and the stats bear that out. Washington’s 8-15 is good, but the 13-17 for PSU is nearly impossible to overcome, especially with McSorley not missing a throw on third down. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery are what are needed, but the offense didn’t have enough juice to score off of either pick.
  • This was likely the final game for Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman and they didn’t have a dominant rushing attack to go out on. Gaskin had two-thirds of his yards on a single 69-yard carry and Coleman had only 11 yards but did have a few key blocks. Both should go on to have success at the NFL level.
  • Next season we will be able to make the determination on Jake Browning. Is he being held back by is receivers or is he more of the problem with having an “on schedule” offense. He held the ball too much and took four sacks because he couldn’t find anyone open underneath.
  • Vita Vea played. He had very little to gain as a presumptive first round pick. Barkely putting himself on the line was a popular storyline, but Vea did the same. He didn’t show particularly great and was winded at the end but it would be a plus in my book as a scout that he was willing to go out there for his brothers.

What are your final Dots?