Nittany Lions win Fiesta Bowl, lose Barkley

Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER SHANNON
Penn State students cheer during the Fiesta Bowl Saturday.

Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER SHANNON
Penn State students cheer during the Fiesta Bowl Saturday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Trace McSorley gave a little smirk when told of his incredible day throwing the football on third down.

“Yeah, that’s pretty good,” he said.

No, not just pretty good.

“(Going) 12-for-12 is pretty damn good,” backup quarterback Tommy Stevens chimed in. “Can’t do any better.”

You can watch a season’s worth of college or pro football and never see a quarterback pull off what McSorley did Saturday. Penn State played well in a lot of areas, but the biggest reason why it beat Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-28 on Saturday, was because McSorley refused to let the offense leave the field.

The junior quarterback was 12-for-12 for 193 yards, two touchdowns and 10 first downs while throwing on third down. He led the Nittany Lion offense to an explosive day against a very good Washington defense before 61,842 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“He’s such a great kid, and I love being around him every day, I love teaching him, and I love his family,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. “That kid, he’s a very special kid, and it’s really an honor to be able to coach him.”

McSorley completed 32-of-41 passes for 341 yards, the second-most passing yards for Penn State in a bowl game (Christian Hackenberg had 371 in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl). McSorley added the two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.

Then, what was obvious all year became reality late Sunday night when Saquon Barkley announced he’s giving up his final year of college eligibility and entering the NFL draft.

The sensational running back wasn’t ready to let the world know his decision following Penn State’s Fiesta Bowl win over Washington on Saturday, but he didn’t let questions linger longer than necessary and explained his decision a day later in a lengthy Instagram post titled, “Dear Penn State Nation.”

Barkley, in his final college game, tied a Penn State record with a 92-yard run on a second-quarter touchdown and finished with 137 yards and two scores on 18 carries.

Barkley thanked Penn State fans, teammates and coaches and said he promised his parents and coach James Franklin that he would return to complete his journalism degree.

“I hope I have left a lasting impression on this University, football program and community at large,” Barkley wrote. “It has been an honor and privilege to be able to call Penn State home and represent the Blue & White and all of the great players who came before me and will follow after me. I will continue to work each and every day to continue to represent Penn State the right way as I move on to the next phase of my life.”

Barkley is considered the No. 1 player available by several draft experts. That doesn’t mean he will be the top overall pick, but he is expected to be taken in the top 10, and perhaps the top five. If Barkley goes in the top five, he would be in line for a rookie contract worth about $20 million.

Barkley appeared on ESPN’s “College GameDay” program from the Rose Bowl on Monday and was asked why he could be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“I think I am a versatile player, I think I can do it all,” Barkley said. “I think I put on film that I am more than just a running back. Personally, I think I am a great teammate, I think I am a great leader. I think I impact the game in different ways. Even when the ball isn’t in my hands, I think I impact the game. I think I can make stuff happen with the ball in my hands, too.”

Barkley ran for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns this season and had 54 catches for 632 yards and three TDs. He also completed two passes — one for a score — and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Barkley, a consensus All-American, finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player. He leaves Penn State 89 yards shy of the program rushing record with 3,843 yards

The 5-foot-11, 233-pound back was an immediate contributor as a true freshman and rose to national prominence as one of the country’s most dynamic players. He used a frenetic running style to compile a lengthy highlight reel full of hurdles, spin moves and jukes en route to a program-best 43 rushing touchdowns.

The No. 9 Lions finished the season 11-2 and improved to 7-0 all-time in the Fiesta Bowl. Washington came in ranked No. 12 and finished 10-3.

Overall, Penn State converted 13-of-17 third-down chances, frustrating the Huskies’ defense time and again because it simply could not get off the field.

“The thing that swung it in our direction was third down on offense,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We were fantastic on third down on offense (Saturday).”

Penn State rushed for 203 yards against the nation’s No. 1 run defense. The Lions scored 35 points against a defense ranked sixth in scoring average. Penn State also piled up 545 total yards, dominating Washington’s defense pretty much from start to finish.

For good measure, McSorley also was 1-for-1 throwing on fourth down.

“You hope to come in and have that kind of success on third downs,” McSorley said. “A lot of that goes to the offensive line, the game plan we had and our receivers making great catches.”

The line allowed only one sack for a loss of one yard and gave McSorley time to throw on the vast majority of his dropbacks. On the other rare occasions, the elusive quarterback used his great scrambling ability to buy himself more time.

McSorley hit DaeSean Hamilton for a 48-yard TD on the game’s opening series, which was the first time all season Washington allowed a play of more than 40 yards. McSorley threw an interception in the end zone on the second series, but he came back out firing on the third and led another TD drive that was finished off by a 2-yard Barkley run.

Washington made a lot of mistakes early on in finding itself down 14-0. The Huskies used a gadget play as a receiver threw a deep pass to a tight end that helped them score a touchdown and pull within 14-7.

Penn State answered with a 76-yard drive and Miles Sanders TD, then Barkley busted free for his 92-yard score to make it 28-7 with 9:01 left in the first half.

Washington scored late in the half and then pulled within 28-21 with an 80-yard drive to open the second half. But once again, Penn State answered that scoring drive with one of its own, as McSorley found Hamilton for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 35-21.

Washington desperately needed a big play and got one as Myles Gaskin busted up the middle for a 69-yard TD run with 6:52 to play.

Penn State had a chance to put it away late with a fourth-down conversion, but a false start on fourth-and-1 led to a field goal try on fourth-and-6 that Tyler Davis missed wide right.

A couple plays later and in need of a touchdown, Washington tried a “hook and ladder” play, but with just five seconds left, Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith snagged a wayward lateral to seal the win.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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