SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's another day closer to the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, as Penn State opened the morning with defensive press conferences before heading to practice.
Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Brent Pry joined linebacker Jason Cabinda, corner back Grant Haley, safety Marcus Allen and defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran.
Pry noted he woke up this morning thinking about Washington running back Myles Gaskin. Entering Saturday's matchup with nine rushing touchdowns across the last three games, his 19 rushing scores ranks third in the NCAA.
"He's just a very dynamic back," Pry said. "We've seen backs similar to 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."
For Cothran, Gaskin's elusive ability to make people miss, makes him all the more difficult to defend.
"That's one of his main strengths, is being able to be elusive and making jump cuts and certain things, being able to make people miss and bounce things outside," Cothran said. "Maybe not into the gap that the play might have been built for but kind of making something on the run. He's really good at that so that's definitely why we're harping on gap accountability so much because it's definitely necessary to win this game for sure."
Outside of Gaskin, the Huskies are led by a veteran quarterback in Jake Browning, who's currently third in FBS with a .688 completion percentage.
"They have a mature guy at quarterback," Cabinda said. "They kind of give him 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. I think having a ton of disguise and hides is going to be crucial to our success."
As both Haley and Cothran, limiting Browning's ability to extend plays will prove key as the defense will ultimately focus in on caging him the pass rush, something Penn State has spent time working on in practice.
"It's a challenge for us and it's a challenge for the d-line," Haley said. "We're excited to go against a quarterback that's good in all aspects of the game."
Looking at Pettis
Penn State is also keyed in wide receiver Dante Pettis, who earned first team All-Pac-12 honors at two positions (wide receiver and return specialist), also a special teams threat ranked tops in the nation in punt returns (20.4) and punt return touchdowns.
"I just think his vision, his balance, his vision and his explosiveness, it's the same thing that we see after the catch," Pry said. "Take away the route running and all those things, when he catches the football, which they do a nice job of getting the ball to their skill player who can do something with it, he's just one of those guys who is dangerous with the ball."
Blessing and a Dream Come True
Much like the seniors from yesterday, the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of so much hard work and the dedication from a group of seniors who were once not even counting on the promise of a postseason bowl game.
"When I first got here, they said we wouldn't be in a bowl game until my senior year and we've been blessed with coach Franklin coming in and bring a lot of these good recruits, a lot of my good friends who I have made throughout the years," Cothren said.
More than the bowl games though, the growth experience and the legacy they'll leave behind is certainly something the seniors are reflecting upon this week.
"I think coming in as freshmen, we kind of all got together and we kind of talked about with coach Franklin, what we want our legacy to be here," Haley said. "Over the last four years, I've seen guys and players grow as men on and off the field and it's been an amazing experience. Just thinking about the last four years, playing from the Pinstripe Bowl to playing in the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, it's been a dream come true."
- Haley on how he'll remember Allen.
"The thing with Marcus is, he is just a guy who - he has been the same person he is ever since he walked in the door. I don't think anybody is going to change who he is and I love that about him. He's going to have that high energy, high character. He's a great person and a great football player and I'm excited for him."
- Cothran on how much the Rose Bowl loss has stuck with him in terms of concluding his senior career on a high note.
"It's been gnawing away at me. It's never the way you want to be able to leave out and obviously seeing how hurt those seniors were last year, the way that that ended. Me being a senior this year, I mean, I definitely want to go out on a positive note. This is something I've definitely been looking forward to for a long time."
- Pry's early thoughts on who will step up to fill in the gap of a departing Cabinda.
"I think that that's one of the challenges this spring. We're fortunate we've signed three guys at the position that will come in early as well as the guys currently in the unit. Cam Brown is a candidate, has played a lot of football now to this point. Of course Ellis Brooks, a young man that we redshirted that we're really excited about. Jan Johnson is another guy very similar to Brandon Smith - a guy that walked on and really caught our attention, physical guy that gets the game, that's smart."
Kickball with HopeKids
Following practice, the entire team joined more than 100 children from HopeKids Arizona for kickball and autographs as part of the Fiesta Bowl Charities initiative.
"We came out here and made these kids' day giving back to the Arizona community," wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said. "You see the kids having a blast with smiles on their face and it's just the little things that we all take for granted sometimes. It kind of reminds us and brings us back to earth because we're always so busy worrying about a game and things like that."