Huard: In potential final game for UW, Myles Gaskin will be key for Huskies in Fiesta Bowl vs Penn St
The No. 11 Washington Huskies will return to action at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl against the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions live on 710 ESPN Seattle. Below, ESPN college football analyst and 710 ESPN Seattle host Brock Huard shares his keys for UW’s big bowl matchup.
1. Expect a CFP-worthy matchup between teams in similar positions.
The Huskies and Nittany Lions each had big seasons in 2016 only to fall short of lofty goals this year, both suffering two tough in-conference losses that ruined their playoff hopes. The similarities don’t end there. They both lost their offensive coordinators to Power 5 head coaching jobs (UW’s Jonathan Smith to Oregon State, Penn State’s Joe Moorhead toMississippi State), and as for their own head coaches, Chris Petersen and James Franklin now largely have their own players in their system and built a clear identities and convictions within their programs.
2. Penn State is a strong opponent, but they have two weaknesses UW can exploit.
Lions quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley have played in big games, performed in clutch moments and been the impetus of change and a turnaround within the Penn State program. Barkley in particular is the most physically dominant and capable offensive player any of these Husky defenders will have faced. He’s a kick returner, receiver and runner that will be a surefire Top 10 pick in April – think Todd Gurley-plus. But Penn State’s offensive line is not overpowering, and on defense its secondary is susceptible to rhythm and timing passers – both areas the Dawgs can take advantage.
3. This could be the Myles Gaskin game.
This very well may be the last game for Gaskin in a Huskies uniform, and I’d expect a very heavy dose of him. He will certainly be thrilled to show his talents across the field from Barkley. Gaskin in space will be the key as Penn State is pretty stout in its front. We saw Gaskin make significant strides as a route-runner and pass-catcher in 2017, and he’ll have one more shot to show that in some favorable matchups in space against the Lions.
4. Pressure on Washington’s linebackers.
Ben Burr-Kirven and Keishawn Bierria will be put to the test with Penn State’s run/pass options and McSorley’s ability to create in big moments. The Nittany Lions also feature an NFL tight end in Mike Gesicki that further burdens the linebackers and safeties.
5. QBs will fly without a net.
Both teams will have to adapt to new play-callers after the departures of their offensive coordinators, and that will certainly play a role for both QBs as UW’s Jake Browning and Penn State’s McSorley have had the good fortune of playing multiple seasons with the same voice and the same play-caller. I am sure both QBs could anticipate what Smith and Moorehead were going to call before the play came in, but there will be a learning curve and trust factor for both signal-callers that will be tested.
6. The tackling challenge.
The most important thing for the Huskies will be getting ready for hitting and tackling at full-speed after a month off, especially since they’ll be dealing with a back like Barkley. The ability to hit fundamentally and finish those tackles will be paramount.
7. If the Huskies win, it will be all about the defense.
If it’s a Washington win, the headlines will be about how the Huskies’ No. 1 rush defense led by Greg Gaines and Vita Vea flexed its muscle, as well as a secondary that eliminated the big play. It will be an old school Rose Bowl-like matchup, played out like a blue collar hitting affair.