Penn State Wins Fiesta Bowl 35-28: Recap

Penn State held on until the very last play to defeat Washington, 35-28, in the 2017 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Turnovers and penalties by the Nittany Lions, as well as big plays by the Huskies allowed Washington to hang in the game. Despite the game being a one score affair, Penn State really dominated from start to finish, both offensively and defensively.

Penn State got the ball to start the game, putting new OC Ricky Rahne to the test early. The Lions managed an 83-yard drive on eight plays, which included two long third down passing conversions by QB Trace McSorley, a theme that would last all day long. On the second long third down conversion, he found all-time leading receiver in Penn State history, DaeSean Hamilton, for a gorgeous 48-yard touchdown catch, on a throw that seemed to fall out of the University of Phoenix Stadium ceiling.

The Penn State offense got the ball right back following a three and out by the Penn State defense. The offense was on the move again as they creeped to the Washington 33-yard line after a defensive holding penalty on the Huskies. However, on the next play, McSorley tried to hook up with TE Mike Gesicki but was intercepted on a nice toe dragging catch in the back of the end zone by Washington DB Byron Murphy.

The Lions defense forced another three and out, with Tyrell Chavis collecting a sack on third down to put an end to the Washington drive. When McSorley and the rest of the offense took the field, they were determined to finish the job this time. Saquon Barkley concluded the 11 play, 64-yard drive by scoring a two-yard rushing touchdown on third and goal, pushing the Penn State lead to 14-0.

Penn State looked ready to force another three and out, as a first down run by Washington RB Myles Gaskin lost yardage and put them behind the sticks. Then, Shane Simmons was called for a roughing the passer penalty, which brought some momentum to the Washington offense. A 52-yard wide receiver pass put the Huskies in the red zone, before QB Jake Browning snuck it in the end zone himself from one yard out, putting the Huskies right back in the game at 14-7.

The Penn State offense responded quickly by driving right down the field, yet again. A 26-yard catch by Gesicki on third down put the Lions in Washington territory. After a first down catch by Juwan Johnson, McSorley found DeAndre Thompkins deep down the sideline on another perfect throw setting up first and goal from the one-yard line. Miles Sanders finished the job off by scoring on a handoff up the middle, taking advantage of increased playing time due to the playing limitations of Saquon Barkley.

After a big first down play, the Penn State defense limited the Huskies on the next three plays, forcing Browning to pooch kick from right around midfield. The Huskies executed the play perfectly, downing the ball inside the Penn State 10 yard line. However, this perfect special team’s play did not matter. On second down, Barkley took the handoff from McSorley and bolted down the sideline, out running the Washington defense for a 92-yard touchdown run. In last season’s Rose Bowl, Barkley displayed his shiftiness and ability to cut on a dime. In this year’s Fiesta Bowl, he highlighted his vision and speed in open space, giving Penn State a commanding 28-7 lead.

After another Washington three and out, Penn State got the ball back with an opportunity to put the game out of reach. A fumble on a pitch from McSorley to Sanders resulted in a Washington takeaway, setting them up deep in Penn State territory. Six plays later, Myles Gaskin found the end zone to cut the Penn State lead to 28-14 before halftime.

Washington received the opening kickoff of the second half and mounted an impressive drive to narrow the lead even more. The Huskies went 80 yards over 13 plays, with Browning finding Aaron Fuller in the end zone to make it a 28-21 game. However, the Lions responded by having a great drive of their own. McSorley found Hamilton in the end zone again on third down, this time from 24 yards out to put the pressure back on Washington.

The defense of the Nittany Lions forced another three and out and the Nittany Lions offense went on another long drive. A third down conversion on a pass to Johnson and a fourth down conversion on a swing pass to Barkley kept the Penn State momentum going inside the red zone. However, McSorley fired a pass across the middle, which was batted at the line and caught for an interception by Austin Joyner.

The Huskies failed to move the ball on the ensuing drive and Penn State struggled as well on their next possession, going three and out and giving the ball right back to the Huskies. Then, lined up in the Wildcat formation, Gaskin took the ball up the middle, made one cut, and cruised to the end zone for a 69 yard run, once again putting the Huskies right back in the game with the score 35-28 with 6:52 left in the game.

When the Penn State offense got the ball back, they embarked on a long drive to ice the game. McSorley found Johnson for another long third down conversion, Barkley converted a third down of his own on the ground, and McSorley found Hamilton yet again to convert another third down on the drive. After the Hamilton first down, Washington Head Coach Chris Peterson started using his timeouts to extend the game. With 1:28 to go, Barkley came up short on third down, forcing James Franklin to make a tough decision with 38 seconds left. He opted to go for it, potentially allowing Barkley to seal the deal. However, a false start pushed the Nittany Lions back and forced a Tyler Davis 45-yard field goal attempt that he pushed to the right of the uprights.

Washington got the ball back with 34 seconds left from their own 28-yard line with no timeouts left. The Lions forced Browning into three incompletions, forcing a 4th & 10 with the game on the line. Browning found Fuller on Chris Peterson’s famous Hook n Ladder play, where Fuller then pitched to Washington special team’s weapon, Dante Pettis, who took the ball far up the sideline before turning back and throwing the ball for a lateral. However, it went right into the hands of Penn State linebacker, Brandon Smith, giving Penn State their first bowl victory since the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

The Lions won the Fiesta Bowl and did so in convincing fashion based on the numbers.

  • Penn State ran for over 200 yards, more than double the average amount the top ranked Washington defense allowed throughout the season. Barkley’s 92-yard touchdown run actually matched the 92.3 yards the Huskies allowed per game for the season.
  • QB Trace McSorley went 32-41for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He found nine different receivers during the game, including DaeSean Hamilton twice in the end zone.
  • The Lions offense went 13-17 on third down and 1-1 on fourth down. On third down, McSorley was an impressive 12-12 for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Penn State owned time of possession, holding the ball for almost 36 minutes throughout the game.
  • The Penn State defense was stout as they forced four three and outs. In addition, they had four other drives where Washington was limited to just one first down on the drive.


Despite the small margin of victory, this game was a convincing effort that should please all Penn State fans. McSorley was extremely efficient throwing the ball while we saw Barkley shine in potentially his last game in the blue and white. In addition, the defense played well for most of the game. Cutting down on turnovers and preventing big plays will be a point of emphasis going into the offseason for Head Coach James Franklin. However, a victory in the Fiesta Bowl leaves a positive taste for all Penn Staters as the Nittany Lions enter the offseason.

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