PHOENIX — Penn State safety Marcus Allen had a pretty good answer when a reporter asked him about Washington senior receiver Dante Pettis.
“I’ll just say one word, man, that’ll sum it all up: fast,” Allen said with a smile. “He’s fast. On film, you see it. He’s a great player.”
Every defense goes into bowl season keying in on certain star players capable of turning a game on a dime. No. 9 Penn State (10-2) is no different when it comes to preparing for No. 11 Washington (10-2) and their Fiesta Bowl date on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
What makes Penn State’s bowl prep unique is Pettis’ versatility.
The Nittany Lions have studied what makes Pettis the standout receiver in a passing attack that’s struggled at times. They’ve also reviewed what makes him one of the greatest punt returners in NCAA history.
“He’s been a focus of ours in our preparation for these guys,” Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Brent Pry said of Pettis.
Pettis and his ability was a known quantity in certain UW circles. Through his first two seasons, he combined to catch 47 balls for 673 yards and two touchdowns. Pettis also accounted for 45 returns for 559 yards and three touchdowns.
His profile exploded in 2016 as the Huskies reached the College Football Playoff semifinal. Pettis caught 53 passes for 822 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also returned 26 punts for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
One could argue this season has been his best in a UW uniform.
Long-term and/or season-ending injuries to Hunter Bryant, Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds diminished UW’s receiving options.
Pettis has stepped up to catch 62 passes for 721 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has 22 returns for 428 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think he just does a lot of things really well,” Nittany Lions cornerback Grant Haley said. “He’s got speed, quickness. Makes tough catches on 50/50 balls and then he’s a veteran guys and one of the top-rated receivers coming into next year’s draft.
“He’s has a lot of confidence and good connection with (Huskies quarterback) Jake Browning. Those two, going against those two, is going to be a good test for our secondary.”
As for Penn State, the Nittany Lions possess one of the best secondaries in the game.
The Nittany Lions have surrendered just 12 passing touchdowns and they’re also the nation’s lone team with three players in the top 100 in passes defended.
As it relates to limiting big plays, they’re pretty good at that, too. The Nittany Lions have allowed 36 passing plays of more than 20 yards. That ranks 42nd out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
They’ve only given up 19 passing plays of more than 30 yards and that’s 19th nationally. Finally, of passing plays longer than 40 yards, Penn State has allowed four. That’s good enough for ninth.
Pettis has seven games this season when he’s torched secondaries with at least one reception longer than 20 yards.
“He can you make you miss as you see on the punt returns and everything,” Allen said. “He’s fast. That’s a fast guy.”
It’s clear Penn State is equipped to handle whatever threat Pettis poses as a receiver.
What about as a returner?
Pettis has a NCAA-record nine punt returns for touchdowns. He’s one away from tying the season-single mark with five and owns the Pac-12 record for most career punt return yards with 1,274.
It appears the Nittany Lions have an answer for that as well.
Penn State is one 28 teams to not allow a punt return of more than 20 yards this season.
In other words, this will likely be the most strict punt defense Pettis and the Huskies play in 2017.
“First, as far as the punt team, we all have to be on the same page,” Allen said. “We all have to contract and box him in. That’s that.
“As far as on defense, we just don’t scheme over one player. We scheme over the whole offense. That’s how we’ll stop that.”
Victor reportedly to miss Fiesta Bowl
Redshirt senior linebacker Azeem Victor, who has been indefinitely suspended for more than month, will reportedly miss the Fiesta Bowl and has signed with an agent.
Victor was charged Nov. 12 for driving under the influence. The school announced three days later Victor would be indefinitely suspended going forward.
He missed UW’s final two games against Utah and Washington State. Victor missed the team’s season-opener against Rutgers for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
A university spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on Victor’s status, which was initially reported by The Seattle Times.