Fiesta Bowl 2017: Full Preview and Predictions for Penn State vs. Washington

Fiesta Bowl 2017: Full Preview and Predictions for Penn State vs. Washington

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The Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2) and the Washington Huskies (10-2) will be rewarded for their successful seasons with an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl to close out the 2017 season.

The Rose Bowl-style Big Ten matchup features two teams that are unfamiliar with the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State hasn’t played in the game since 1997 while the Huskies will be making their first appearance.

Neither team claimed a conference championship this season. The Nittany Lions were denied the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship Game by virtue of their losses to Ohio State and Michigan State while Washington was tripped up by Stanford and Arizona State.

It’s a close matchup of similar Big 10 and Pac-12 opponents that the oddsmakers see as a tight game with a slight nod to the Big 10 representative.

Here’s all the information you need to catch the game, along with the early odds from OddsShark.

           

Date: December 30, 2017

Time: 4 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Odds: Penn State -4.5

            

How Penn State Can Win

Penn State is the slight favorite for the showdown at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and Saquon Barkley and this offense are a major reason why. 

Barkley is a do-everything back for the Nittany Lions, and this season should see him going to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He’s No. 2 in the nation in all-purpose yards, racking up an incredible 179.5 yards per game. 

It all makes an offense that averages 6.5 yards per play go, and quarterback Trace McSorley does an excellent job of pushing the ball downfield in their vertical passing game. It all works together to create a dynamic offense that can attack all levels of the field. 

On defense, Penn State does a good job of keeping Barkley’s counterparts from springing loose. The Nittany Lions bottled up opposing running backs to the tune of 3.3 yards per carry. 

They are stingy against the pass, too. They rank 12th in the nation in yards allowed per pass attempt at just 6.0. 

If Penn State can get the ball to Barkley in creative ways and get him going, the offense should have enough to keep Washington’s defense on its toes. From there, the Penn State defense should be able to make life difficult for the Huskies. 

            

How Washington Can Win

Washington is a team that never felt like it was quite recognized as a potential playoff side, but that’s a mistake. The Huskies are a well-balanced team in their own right and bring a lot to the table. 

For starters, they have their own do-it-all back who is statistically comparable to Barkley in the rushing department. Myles Gaskin has put together a season that should be noticed more than it probably is. Adam Jude of the Seattle Times broke down the numbers between the two backs:

 

Quarterback Jake Browning has been asked to do much less than he was last season, but he has been efficient. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes.

Defensively, the Huskies have been even more dominant than Penn State. They have limited opponents to just 4.1 yards per play and have the No. 1 rush defense at 2.63 yards per carry. 

If the Huskies win, it will be because they limited Barkley to just a few big plays or less and Browning was able to do enough to keep the Lions from stacking the box against Gaskin

             

Prediction

The matchup that’s the real key here will be the Penn State offensive line against the Washington defensive front. 

In both losses, the Nittany Lions were outmanned in the trenches. Ohio State shut down Barkley to the tune of just 44 yards on 21 carries. He only saw a slight uptick in success the following week when he rushed for just 63 yards on 14 carries. 

That’s bad news for Penn State as Washington’s defensive line is legit. It’s anchored by NFL prospect Vita Vea, who is capable of taking over a game like he did against Washington State in the Apple Cup, per PFF College:

 

With Joe Moorhead heading off to Mississippi State to take over from head coach Dan Mullen, Penn State will be left without their offensive coordinator to plan for the best defense they’ve seen this season. That’s not a great recipe for success and could be the difference. 

Expect Gaskin to outrush Barkley and the Huskies to make a statement in the desert. 

Prediction: Washington 31, Penn State 21

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December 4, 2017 at 07:36AM

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