Previewing The Enemy: No. 11 Washington Huskies

The Nittany Lions prepare to face an opponent they’ve rarely faced in recent years in the Washington Huskies — a team that packs a serious punch and could be the best opponent Penn State’s faced all season. Between star quarterback Jake Browning and massive defensive tackle Vita Vea, Washington has a plethora of options it can use to burn the Nittany Lions in what could be a great Fiesta Bowl.

The Team

Washington’s two losses came in surprising fashion — one on the road to Arizona State midway through the year and another in hostile territory against Stanford. Though they fell out of the College Football Playoff race, they’re still a dangerous team hungry for a New Year’s Six bowl victory. Take a look at what the Huskies have to offer against the Nittany Lions.

Offense

Quarterback Jake Browning helped lead the Huskies to the College Football Playoff a year ago, and though this season didn’t go exactly according to plan, he’s still one of the best passers in the nation. Browning boasts a completion percentage of 62 percent on passing plays that develop longer than two seconds, meaning the Nittany Lions would be wise to pressure Browning off the blitz.

Here’s a look at what he’s capable of:

On the ground, the Huskies are equally as strong with running back Myles Gaskin, who’s accounted for 1,282 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns. Gaskin has home run potential every time he touches the ball — and for good reason.

Receiving wise, Gaskin will be involved, and should be considered a threat each time he runs out of the backfield. However, there is no comparison when it comes to Huskies receiver Dante Pettis. Pettis leads the team with 62 catches, 721 yards, and seven touchdowns, but his biggest threat comes in the return game. Pettis is the NCAA career leader in punt returns with nine, and brings back echoes of Devin Hester with his return prowess.

The Huskies offense is potent and dangerous, and should match up well against the Nittany Lions.

Defense

Ben Burr-Kirven leads Washington’s defense in total tackles with 79 heading into Saturday’s game. The junior linebacker from Menlo Park, Calif., has been a force all season long and should play a big part in trying to stop Saquon Barkley from finding room between the tackles. Defensive tackle Vita Vea — a player who’s expected to be drafted in the top two rounds of this April’s NFL Draft — could push the needle in this game. Vea stands a massive 6-foot-5, 340 pounds, and enters the contest off the heels of a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. He’ll likely dictate whether or not the Nittany Lions are able to run the football effectively against the Huskies.
Three different players share the team lead in interceptions with two apiece — Tevis Bartlett, Jordan Miller, and Byron Murphy. Bartlett has been a mainstay in opposing backfields this season, recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss.
Ryan Bowman paces the Huskies in sacks with 5.5, while star defensive tackle Vita Vea should also make things difficult for Penn State’s offensive line, especially sophomore center Connor McGovern. Keishawn Bierria has made a difference in the turnover battle with two forced fumbles and two recoveries on the season. Safety Taylor Rapp is another player to keep an eye on after garnering first team All-Pac 12 honors as a sophomore.

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