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The Fiesta Bowl live blog: Penn State beats Washington in thriller

Trace McSorley led a huge win for the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports


Some stats:

The most important stats:

Hard to beat a team when they’re going 13-for-17 on third downs. Barkley’s 92-yard score was the attention getter, but McSorley (32-for-41, 342 yards, 12-for-12 on third downs) was by far the most valuable player in this game. He’ll enter 2018 as a preseason Heisman favorite.

Fourth Quarter

0:00. Victory formation. Penn State is your Fiesta Bowl champ. Wild finish.

0:05. TRICKERATION. Hook-and-ladder from Fuller to Pettis. It works, and Pettis gets to the PSU 30, but he’s by the sideline and has to blindly throw the ball backwards. It’s picked off by Brandon Smith.

Pettis could have simply run out of bounds, but there wasn’t really any way for him to know there were still a few seconds on the clock.

0:15. Browning overshoots Dissly. Fourth down. Watch the trickeration.

0:20. Browning escapes pressure but can’t quite connect with Fuller. Third down.

0:26. McElroy brings up what was just crossing my mind: this is Boise State hook-and-ladder territory. Browning throws the ball away on first down.

0:34. MISSED FIELD GOAL. The most important drive of the game for Penn State:

  • First-and-10 from the 25: McSorley two-yard keeper.
  • Second-and-8 from the 27: Shovel pass to Gesicki for one yard.
  • Third-and-7 from the 28: Rollout pass to Johnson for 12 yards and a first down. Clock moves under five minutes.
  • First-and-10 from the 40: McSorley dumps to Barkley on the left sideline for five yards.
  • Second-and-5 from the 45: Barkley bounces to the left for four yards.
  • Third-and-1 from the 49: Barkley powers ahead for three yards with minimal blocking.
  • First-and-10 from the UW 48: Sanders up the middle for one yard. Washington calls its first timeout with 3:02 left.
  • Second-and-9 from the 47: Barkley bounces to the right but gains only one yard.
  • Third-and-8 from the 46: With color commentator Greg McElroy saying “I’d run it,” McSorley moves to 12-for-12 passing on third downs, finding Hamilton for 14 yards and yet another first down.
  • First-and-10 from the 32: Sanders up the middle for three yards. Washington calls its second timeout with 1:39 left. Last set of downs for the Huskies.
  • Second-and-7 from the 29: Sanders up the middle for five yards. Washington calls its final timeout with 1:34 left.
  • Third-and-2 from the 24: Barkley bounces off left tackle but comes up about a half-yard short. PSU runs the clock down to 38 seconds left and calls timeout. The Nittany Lions will go for it.
  • Fourth-and-1 from the 23: FALSE START by Brendan Mahon. Ouch.
  • Fourth-and-6 from the 28: Tyler Davis’ 45-yard attempt is wide right.

6:52. PENN STATE 35, WASHINGTON 28. The most important drive of the game for Washington:

  • First-and-10 from the 22: Yetur Gross-Matos sacks Browning for a loss of two.
  • Second-and-12 from the 20: Browning to Ty Jones for 11 yards.
  • Third-and-1 from the 31: Hello, Myles Gaskin. Sixty-nine yards straight up the middle for a touchdown.


Gaskin had 13 carries for 29 yards. Now he’s got 14 for 98. Seven-point game.

8:06. Nice stand by the UW defense. Two Barkley carries gain zero yards (in Barkley fashion, he gains three, then loses three), and the Huskies finally stop McSorley on a third-and-long. He has to dump the ball to Barkley, who comes up well short of the sticks. UW is running out of time but has escaped the dagger once more. The Huskies will start from their 22.

10:11. Six-and-out for Washington. A Browning-to-Ahmed sidearmer moves the chains once, but Browning can’t find anyone open on the following third-and-9. Whitford outkicks his coverage a bit on a 54-yarder, and Thompkins returns it 20 yards. PSU will start at its 34. Once again, PSU will attempt to apply the dagger. The Lions haven’t been able to yet.

13:05. INTERCEPTION. Pretty crafty by Washington: To cut down on McSorley’s third-down success, Washington set up a third-and-short. Barkley is stuffed for a big loss to set up fourth-and-6 from the 30 ... which PSU converts when McSorley throws to Barkley on the sideline and he hurdles a defender to the 23.

After another short pass to Barkley, however, McSorley is picked off again. Ben Burr-Kirven bats an over-the-middle pass at the line, and it’s picked off by Austin Joyner. Washington is still somehow within two possessions and will start at its 19.

Third Quarter

0:00. With passes to Gesicki and Hamilton, McSorley’s able to work the Nittany Lions past midfield, and he once again throws a perfect ball on third down, this time on third-and-8 to Johnson.

It’ll be third-and-2 from the Washington 26 when the fourth quarter begins. PSU has the dagger in hand.

4:00. Huge three-and-out. Browning finds Drew Sample for six yards, but he can’t find anyone open on third-and-4, and Shareef Miller trips him up as he’s trying to leave the pocket. PSU has a chance to go back up three scores as we reach the back end of the third quarter.

5:59. PENN STATE 35, WASHINGTON 21. Goodness, PSU’s been good on third downs. McSorley finds an opening and sprints for 24 yards to get the Nittany Lions near midfield, then continues his third-down clinic: he finds Johnson for 11 yards on third-and-7, then lobs to Hamilton for a 24-yard score on third-and-4.

McSorley on third downs: 8-for-8 for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

9:57. PENN STATE 28, WASHINGTON 21. Washington comes out with a different plan of attack. Browning throws short repeatedly, and the Huskies attempt to employ a little tempo. He completes passes to Ty Jones and Fuller for first downs, and Gaskin runs for two more, and UW is to the Penn State 31.

On third-and-7 from the 28, Browning finds no pressure in the pocket and is able to wait for Fuller to come open in the end zone. Thirteen plays, 80 yards, five minutes, touchdown. Absolutely perfect drive from UW, and it’s a one-score game.


Some stats:

When you’ve nearly tripled your opponent’s yardage, you expect to be winning by more than 14 points, but Washington bought itself some margin for error with those two turnovers. One prevented a PSU score, and the other created one for the Huskies.

Despite pretty equal to-go yardage, PSU is 6-for-7 on third downs, and UW is 3-for-7.

Second Quarter

0:00. Two Gaskin rushes and a Browning scramble run out the clock.

0:55. Sanders nearly makes another huge mistake. He lets the kickoff bounce in front of him, and he’s barely able to fall on it at the PSU 12 before the coverage unit gets there. Three Barkley carries move the chains, then McSorley finds Johnson on a post route for an 18-yard gain.

PSU shows extreme confidence, calling timeout before a third-and-9 with 1:09 left, but McSorley can only find Thompkins for a five-yarder, and PSU punts for the first time of the day. The timeout doesn’t backfire, though: Blake Gillikin’s punt travels 47 yards and is downed at the 6.

4:15. PENN STATE 28, WASHINGTON 14. Finally, Gaskin finds some room. After Browning completes short passes to Fuller, Ahmed, and Baccellia, Gaskin takes a Wildcat snap, waits for his blocks, and scores from 13 yards out. The Huskies took full advantage of the turnover. Needed that desperately.

6:41. FUMBLE. Washington catches a break. McSorley pitches the ball to Sanders on an option, but Sanders isn’t looking for the ball for some reason. Ryan Bowman recovers at the PSU 33. UW has a plus-2 turnover margin, and it’s the only reason the Huskies aren’t down at least 28.

6:47. Massive danger time for UW. Gaskin is stopped for a gain of one, Browning is sacked by about eight different guys at once, and the Huskies go three-and-out. Whitford’s punt is a good one, but PSU will start at its 40 with plenty of time left in the half.

9:01. PENN STATE 28, WASHINGTON 7. College football is going to miss Saquon Barkley. So much. Penn State’s offensive line creates a lovely hole for No. 26, he outraces a safety to the sideline, and he’s gone. Ninety-two yards.

Power to Austin Joyner, No. 4, for busting his tail trying to catch him.

Penn State has 339 yards 20 minutes into the game. Against an excellent defense.

9:45. Dante Pettis sighting! Browning fakes left and hits Pettis on a screen. He uses his blockers and bursts upfield for 26 yards to the UW 46. But that’s as far as the Huskies get. Gaskin has been completely hemmed in — he gains just two yards on a carry and four yards on a screen — and a Browning pooch kick gets a nice roll inside the PSU 10.

Four Gaskin touches have gained a combined two yards. The Huskies gained 52 yards on the trick play pass, and their other 13 snaps have gained 41. The solution, obviously: more trick plays!

11:59. PENN STATE 21, WASHINGTON 7. PSU continues to try to spread the ball to just about everybody on the depth chart, but short passes to Tommy Stevens and Brandon Polk combine to gain just four yards. No worries — on third-and-6, McSorley fires an outright dart to Gesicki for 26 yards. He finds Johnson for 11 yards to the UW 35, and it’s scoring opportunity No. 4.

PSU dodges a major bullet when McSorley misfires and misses Stevens on a shovel pass. It’s batted around by defenders and just barely hits the ground. Given second life, McSorley lobs to Thompkins for 34 yards down to the 1. Sanders plunges into the end zone, and PSU’s back up 14.

McSorley has played with fire a couple of times, but he’s 16-for-21 for 196 yards and a touchdown, and he’s rushed four times for 26 yards. PSU is 6-for-6 on third downs. Damn.

14:57. PENN STATE 14, WASHINGTON 7. Browning sneaks into the end zone for a touchdown on the quarter’s first play. UW is alive.

First Quarter

0:00. UW’s first first down of the game comes via roughing-the-passer penalty, and then it’s TRICK PLAY TIME. This is Chris Petersen in the Fiesta Bowl, after all. Browning fires a lateral to Andre Baccellia, who finds tight end Will Dissly open deep for a 52-yard gain.

Either Boise State or Washington should play in the Fiesta Bowl every year.

The first quarter ends with Salvon Ahmed catching a short pass and rumbling down to the 1.

1:34. PENN STATE 14, WASHINGTON 0. Washington gets lucky; a McSorley keeper gains 12 yards, but a Washington defender leads with his head and makes contact with McSorley’s helmet as the QB is sliding. Textbook personal foul, but no call. But it just delays an eventual score all the same.

On the ensuing third-and-8, McSorley fires a slant to Hamilton for a first down, then hits Saaed Blacknall for 20 yards to the UW 20. Barkley gets to the left edge and gains eight yards, then Gesicki catches a short pass and gets to the 5. On third-and-goal from the 2, Barkley leaps into the end zone.

Nobody has averaged more than 5.7 yards per play against Washington all year. PSU is currently averaging 7.1. Current total yardage: PSU 171, UW 1.

6:46. Browning is unsettled. He throws a dangerous pass to Drew Sample, and it’s broken up. After Gaskin is stuffed again (this time by Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith for a loss of one), he can’t escape PSU’s pass rush. He dodges two tacklers but eventually gets wrapped up by Tyrell Chavis. PSU runs into Whitford, but he gets off an unreturnable 53-yarder all the same. Damn.

8:23. INTERCEPTION. PSU opens another drive with a shovel pass, this one to Miles Sanders, and it gains four yards. After an incompletion, McSorley does a lovely job of scrambling from pressure, threatening to run, and finding tight end Mike Gesicki downfield for 17 yards. Washington is called for defensive holding on the next play, and it’s another scoring opportunity for the Nittany Lions.

Apparently that means it’s time to go deep again. But he lobs it too far for Gesicki (hard to do), and Byron Murphy makes an outstanding interception, dragging a toe inbounds on his way out.

Touchback. Bullet dodged.

9:46. After a short return and an illegal block penalty, Washington starts from its own 7 and quickly goes three-and-out. A Jake Browning pass to Aaron Fuller gains eight yards, but Ryan Buchholz stuffs Myles Gaskin on second down, and Browning can’t hit Fuller on a fade route on third.

Deandre Thompkins mishandles a nice Joel Whitford punt and just barely recovers it at his 34. #FumblesLuck

11:10. PENN STATE 7, WASHINGTON 0. Penn State is going to struggle against Washington’s dynamite defensive front, and one of the most interesting things about the early going is going to be how the Nittany Lions choose to attack it.

They start with a shovel pass to Saquon Barkley, but it loses a yard. Juwan Johnson drops a hurried pass by Trace McSorley on second down, but Barkley shakes free on third-and-11, taking a short pass 12 yards to move the chains.

That seems to relax PSU. The Nittany Lions enter UW territory with a nine-yard zone-read keeper by McSorley and a 15-yarder from Barkley, and after a couple of short passes lose yardage, McSorley finds DaeSean Hamilton open deep for a 48-yard score.

Teams don’t break off 48-yarders on Washington — the Huskies had allowed just one pass of 40-plus yards all year. Make it two. Tremendous start for PSU.

Preview by Alexis Chassen

Two high-octane offenses will face off in this year’s Fiesta Bowl, when the Washington Huskies take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN (live stream).

This marks the third time in program history these two teams will meet, with Penn State holding the overall series lead, 2-0. The last meeting was in 1983, in the Aloha Bowl, when the Nittany Lions won 13-10 over the Huskies. In the time since, Penn State is heading to its 11th bowl game in 13 years, and Washington will be competing in its eighth bowl game in a row.

Time, TV channel, and streaming info

  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: WatchESPN
  • Odds: Penn State opened as 4.5-point favorites.

Washington vs. Penn State news:

If UW is close going into the fourth, they will definitely have a depth advantage. This could well translate into anywhere between a 3- and 10-point net scoring advantage, assuming UW makes the requisite investments in the rushing attack early in the game. The key for UW will be to make this a physical game in order to test that Penn State depth.

PSU will face the nation’s statistical best run defense - albeit one that faced one of the easiest schedules in FBS for the second year in a row - so this may be another game in which Trace McSorley will have to use the pass game in order to get Saquon Barkley going in likely his last game in the Basic Blues.

Running backs will rule the day

Both the Huskies and the Nittany Lions feature dominant running backs who are among the top of the FBS. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley didn’t quite finish as high as anticipated in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he’s still a dynamic rusher -- and return specialist — and will give the Huskies top-rated rush defense a tough task.

On the other side of the field is Washington running back Myles Gaskin. The Husky might not have the breakout numbers to match that of Barkley, but his consistency has kept him in line with the Big Ten rusher on the stat sheet.

While Barkley gets the check mark over Gaskin on the eye test, he can’t compare as a pure runner. Gaskin’s vision is absolutely phenomenal. You can’t put together a highlight package that is going to truly capture his brilliance. His dominance is in the ability to turn a 2-yard gain into 6 yards rather than a 10-yard gain into 80 yards.

With this being the last collegiate game for both Barkley and Gaskin, it’s fitting that they finally face each other on the gridiron for title supreme.

Washington vs. Penn State prediction:

Having its 2016 season ending in a CFP snub, and a 2017 season that was derailed by a stunning loss to Ohio State, Penn State is out for blood. James Franklin needs a way to keep his team motivated heading into the offseason — especially losing some big-time contributors to the NFL — and he’ll look to make a point against the Huskies.

Be sure to check out all our bowl predictions here.

College football's first bowl game was almost its last