Fiesta Bowl preview: Return game is key
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Nittany Lions of Penn State will clash with the Huskies of Washington in the 2017 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
Penn State has not allowed a punt return for a touchdown in the 12 games its played this season.
On Saturday, Dec. 30. that stat will be tested by Washington punt returner Dante Pettis.
The senior wide receiver has nine career punt returns for touchdowns, shattering Wes Welker’s past record of eight returns for touchdowns, the record breaker coming in a matchup with Oregon prior this season.
Freshly promoted Phil Galiano, who replaced Charles Huff as special teams coach for the Nittany Lions, says the team is ready to face such a dangerous return specialist.
"Our players accept the challenge and were looking forward to it," Galiano said, "We're excited about the challenge and were gonna do our best to not let to him be a factor in the game."
As for game planning around Pettis, Penn State’s sophomore punter Blake Gillikin believes he will need to be elite in terms of his punts locations throughout the game.
“His stats speak for himself,” he said “Once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him.”
Gillikin, who averaged 43.2 yards per punt this season, thinks he will need to play his best game of the season, along with his coverage team.
The Penn State punt coverage team will head into the bowl game short-handed, after gunner Irvin Charles was dismissed from the team.
In term’s of approach, Gillikin thinks being more aggressive is key, meaning punting the ball towards either sideline, trying to make Pettis as uncomfortable as possible.
“It’s going to be an extreme challenge for us, and We’re looking forward to it.”
The Fiesta bowl is scheduled for a 4 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by ESPN.