Saquon Barkley and Penn State came up with a brilliant finish in a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl win over Washington. Here are five things that matter.
2017 Fiesta Bowl: Penn State 35, Washington 28
5. Pac-12 1-8? Ugh.
And that ends what will go down as one of the worst bowl seasons by any major conference ever.
Utah was able to beat a West Virginia team missing QB Will Grier and RB Justin Crawford, but that was it for the conference.
It’s a year of transition for the conference with coaching changes at UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon, and big expected losses among the star quarterbacks, but it’s going to be a rough offseason.
Most of the bowl losses were acceptable fights, but USC was overwhelming against Ohio State, Arizona was underwhelming against Purdue, and on and on and on – it was ugly.
The Fiesta Bowl was the final hope to save the conference’s pride a bit. Nope.
4. Washington was awful, but …
It overcame the problems to be right there in the end.
The defense had its worst game of the season, the ground game did nothing outside of one big Myles Gaskin run, and it took a few big breaks just to get the game going. But even with the team playing so poorly, it did get the Gaskin run. It did come up with a few key stops. It did get the breaks with three takeaways and a huge late missed Penn State field goal.
Sometimes it’s not your day. But Washington managed to make it close and have a shot late. That’s going to be a small consolation, but the Huskies never quit.
3. James Franklin’s big win
Think about where the program is now compared to where it was four years ago.
Remember, Penn State couldn’t go bowling when James Franklin took over, the program caught a big break, went to the Pinstripe Bowl, followed it up with a disappointing 7-6 2015, and then … boom.
22 wins in two seasons, a Big Ten championship, a trip to the Rose Bowl, a win in the Fiesta, and the claim to be in the running for the honor of being the Best Team Not Yet In The College Football Playoff.
His team came out confident, dominant, and sharp. It didn’t buckle late when things started to slow down, and now, Franklin has his first massive bowl victory helped by …
2. Trace McSorley
Everyone will be talking about that other guy in the backfield, but McSorley was the real star of the game.
He was brilliant on third downs, helping the offense convert 13-of-17 tries, completing 32-of-41 passes on the day for 342 yards and two touchdowns.
There were two interceptions, but he got the job down with 60 rushing yards, the two big touchdown throws to DaeSean Hamilton, and again, third down player after third down play.
That’s what he does.
And now, with so many big-time quarterbacks off to the NFL – or finished – he’s going to come into the 2018 season as one of the biggest quarterback stars. He’s going to be the veteran who can keep the Penn State success rolling, especially after losing …
1. Saquon Barkley
He only really had that one run, but it was a magical one.
Barkley finished with 18 carries for 137 yards and two scores, with his 92 yard dash the tone-setting moment. But he was limited.
The problem was the way Penn State handled Barkley’s situation. Franklin wanted to limit his star’s workload to avoid possibly getting hurt, but it seemed like the offense was dabbling.
Barkley went 100% all-out, but he finished with just 18 carries and 25 touches. That might be a lot, but normally in a last college game, if the guy is playing, you make him the workhorse – and he’s the type of player who wants the ball.
But it all worked. He was fantastic, he showed what he’s a sure-thing top five overall pick, Penn State won, and best of all, he stayed healthy.