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Penn State’s Defense Ready To Tangle With Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin

The upcoming battle between Penn State’s offense and Washington’s defense in the Fiesta Bowl has been well documented, but how do these two teams match up on the flip side of the ball?

On paper, Penn State — ranked 19th nationally in total defense — has the advantage over the 54th ranked Washington offense. But numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and the Huskies have multiple weapons on their sideline.

Injuries hampered Washington this season, preventing Chris Petersen’s squad from building on the success of last year’s trip to the College Football Playoff. The Nittany Lions may have a dynamic duo in Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, but the Huskies also boast a talented one-two punch in Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin.

Browning was the heart and soul of a team that finished 12-2 in 2016, winning the Pac-12 for the first time since 2000. He threw for 3,430 yards and a school record 43 touchdowns in a year where he finished sixth in the Heisman voting. Though his numbers faltered a bit this fall, no doubt due to injury woes stemming from last year, the junior quarterback is still an experienced and dangerous weapon on a potent Washington offense.

Senior inside linebacker Jason Cabinda has been keeping an eye on Browing while watching film and has noticed how skilled he is, especially his talent at managing the offense.

“[Washington] kind of gives [Browning] the green light to make a ton of audibles at the line of scrimmage. He’s a very smart quarterback. I can tell he has a very high football IQ. He’s good at identifying the defense, and what they’re in,” Cabinda said.

Senior cornerback Grant Haley also sees the danger in Browning’s game and how he can tear apart a defense with ease.

“[Browning] is a versatile quarterback. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s clearly the leader of the team. And going against him will be a good challenge because as good as he is inside the pocket, I mean sometimes he’s even better outside the pocket,” Haley said. “And it’s a challenge for us and it’s a challenge for the D-line. And we’re excited to go against a quarterback that’s good in all aspects of the game.” 

The second half of the Huskies’ two-headed monster is Gaskin. Often overlooked, Gaskin is a star in his own right. An athletic freak who can break tackles like an NFL back and turn solid defensive lines into Swiss cheese, Gaskin is also gunning for the all-time rushing title at Washington. He’s just 150 yards away heading into Saturday’s game.

A hungry, skilled running back with a nose for the end zone (22 total touchdowns this year) sounds like a nightmare for any defense to handle. It’s been keeping defensive coordinator Brent Pry up at night.

I woke up thinking about him this morning,” Pry said. “He’s just a very dynamic back. We’ve seen backs similar, that model. But I don’t know that we’ve seen one as good at it, just the cuts and the explosiveness, the balance, sees the hole, can catch the ball out of the backfield. Super impressed with him.”

Senior defensive tackle Curtis Cothran also has paid a lot of attention to Gaskin and the challenge he poses to the Penn State defense.

“I think he runs a lot like guys from Ohio State where he’s able to make a lot of elusive plays. Also reminds me of the guys from Maryland, same thing, very shifty,” Cothran said. “And he’s able to improvise a lot of plays and able to make a lot of moves and be able to make things happen when they’re not there, sort of in a sense. He’s really good at that. Their O-line is great.”

Even senior safety Marcus Allen has taken notice.

I would say Myles Gaskin is an explosive running back. And he has a unique jump cut that I took note on. He’s a really good player and I respect his game,” Allen said.

Though they’ll have a tough matchup where many have been ignoring the skill of Browning and Gaskin, the Penn State defense looks to make a statement, especially as they say goodbye to seniors like Allen, Cabinda, Cothran, and Haley.

“It’s been a long road, no doubt about that — a long road, long journey, a ton of work has gone into it. But we’re finally, we’re harvesting the fruits now being able to play in games like this, so we’re super excited,” Cabinda said.

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Matt is a freshman majoring in Secondary Education, hoping to minor in philosophy, and is from the fabled land of "just outside Philly." He'll gladly talk your ear off about anything from Picasso to Wu-Tang Clan and lives and dies by Philly sports. Send him seething rants and death threats at [email protected]


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