Saquon Barkley, Penn State Hang On to Beat Washington 35-28 in Fiesta Bowl

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 30, 2017

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 30:  Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after scoring on a 92 yard touchdown rush against the Washington Huskies during the first half of the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Penn State picked apart an overmatched Washington defense early before holding on late to earn a 35-28 victory at the 2017 Fiesta Bowl on Saturday. 

The Nittany Lions had 545 total yards in their first bowl win since 2014. Running back Saquon Barkley, in potentially his final college game, went out in style with 175 total yards (137 rushing) and two touchdowns on 25 touches. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley also had a big day in the win with 342 passing yards and two touchdowns. 

Penn State head coach James Franklin did a good job of making sure Barkley was featured in the offense without overusing him to protect his star's long-term future and avoid risking a potential injury.

Barkley wasn't about to let his moment on the Fiesta Bowl stage pass by without creating at least one lasting memory:

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah offered a thought after Barkley's 92-yard score:

That wasn't Barkley's last play of the game, but it was the one he will be remembered for when Penn State fans look back on the Fiesta Bowl. 

Adding to the already-impressive day Barkley had is he put up those excellent numbers against a Washington defense that led FBS with 92.3 rushing yards allowed per game and 2.63 yards per carry. 

Prior to the game, Penn State's star was mum on when he would make a decision about returning for his senior season or declaring for the 2018 NFL draft. 

"Whenever it hits me," he said Thursday, via ESPN.com's Dan Murphy. "It could be the day after [the bowl game] I know I'm going to stay or going to leave. It could be the last day [to declare]."

While Penn State awaits what Barkley will do, Franklin already knows he will have to find replacements for McSorley and DaeSean Hamilton at wide receiver. 

That duo also shined in their final game for the Nittany Lions. Hamilton was on the receiving end of five passes for 110 yards and caught both of McSorley's touchdown throws. 

McSorley and Hamilton were able to halt Washington's momentum early in the third quarter. After the Huskies cut their deficit to seven points after previously trailing 28-7, McSorley led an eight-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with this catch by Hamilton in the end zone:

One key in the game was Penn State's success on third down, as it converted 13 of its 17 opportunities. That ability to keep the ball moving ate up more clock and kept Washington's defense on the field for 79 plays and nearly 36 minutes

Third-down defensive struggles will haunt Washington looking back on this game. The Nittany Lions converted three third downs late in the fourth quarter while clinging to a seven-point lead that allowed them to take six minutes off the clock. 

These were McSorley's stats on third down after that third-quarter touchdown pass to Hamilton:

McSorley's ability to step up in the pocket when the Huskies sent extra pass-rushers, especially in the first half, was also instrumental for the offense:

As impressive as Penn State's offensive showing was, the defense deserves credit for what it did against a Washington team that averaged 36.9 points and 411.7 yards per game during the regular season. 

It only had 35 rushing yards prior to Myles Gaskin's 69-yard touchdown that helped get the Huskies back to within seven at 35-28 with 6:51 remaining.

Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 175 yards, his sixth game of the season with fewer than 200 passing yards. He missed on his first three passes after Washington got the ball back deep in its own territory with 26 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game. 

Washington almost found an opening on its fourth-down hook-and-lateral play when Dante Pettis crossed midfield with some room, but his lateral went right to Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith to end the game. 

The Huskies' loss drops the Pac-12's record to 1-8 this bowl season, with Utah's 30-14 win over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl the only bright spot for the conference. 

Per ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura, the worst bowl record for a Power Five conference prior to this year was the Big Ten's 1-6 mark in 2008. 

On the other side, Franklin has left no doubt about Penn State's place among the nation's elite programs. The Nittany Lions followed up last year's surprise Rose Bowl appearance with another 11-win season and a Fiesta Bowl title. 

Related

    Report: Frank Beamer's Son Leaves Georgia for Oklahoma

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Report: Frank Beamer's Son Leaves Georgia for Oklahoma

    Chris Low
    via ESPN.com

    Clemson Loses 2nd QB, Tucker Israel, to Transfer

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Clemson Loses 2nd QB, Tucker Israel, to Transfer

    TigerNet Staff
    via TigerNet.com

    CFB Units That Will Dominate in 2018

    College Football logo
    College Football

    CFB Units That Will Dominate in 2018

    Brian Pedersen
    via Bleacher Report

    Penn State Football Recruiting 2018 Profile: RB Ricky Slade

    Penn State Football logo
    Penn State Football

    Penn State Football Recruiting 2018 Profile: RB Ricky Slade

    Victory Bell Rings
    via Victory Bell Rings