Fiesta Bowl matchups: Dante Pettis vs. PSU special teams

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 09: Wide receiver Dante Pettis
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 09: Wide receiver Dante Pettis /

Washington’s Dante Pettis has cemented himself as the most successful punt returner in college football history. He’ll face off against  a Penn State special teams unit ranked in the top-20 in punt return defense.

In a tied game against Oregon earlier this season, Washington Football team’s secret weapon, Dante Pettis, broke through for an electrifying 64-yard punt return touchdown. That was his record-breaking ninth return score of his career. He is also the record holder for career punt return yards in the Pac-12.

Pettis’ impressive four-year run at Washington culminated earlier this month, named a Consensus First-Team All-American on special teams.

Changing the tide

The potential impact of a strong punt return game proved to be huge for Washington time after time. A season ago, Pettis ran one back in the final minutes at Utah. The Huskies remained unbeaten with a 31-24 win over the Utes, thanks to Pettis’ clutch return.

His record-breaking return did the same against Oregon. The Huskies were unable to build a big lead early in the game in Seattle, but the touchdown from Pettis set the tone for the remainder of the game. Washington went on to win big after the Pettis score put the Dawgs up 10-3.

Penn State is favored in this year’s Fiesta Bowl by just 4.5 points — meaning a big-time punt return at the right time could play a major role.

Penn State’s preparation

With over a month between their final regular season game and the Fiesta Bowl, the Nittany Lions have ample time to prepare for Pettis. Penn State punter Blake Gillikin may elect to boot the ball out of bounds or away from Pettis. Should he give Pettis the chance to return a punt or two, the Nittany Lions have only allowed 4.29 yards per punt return on the season.

Penn State may also use its extra prep time to draw up fourth-down-and-short plays. The PSU coaching staff could then decide on each fourth down situation whether to punt it in Pettis’ direction or roll the dice and keep the offense on the field.

Next: Fiesta Bowl matchups: Barkley vs. Washington’s front seven

Regardless of how Penn State chooses to attack the best punt returner in NCAA history, special teams will not be overlooked in the Jan. 30 Fiesta Bowl.