Glendale, Ariz. — Converting on third downs had been a sore spot at Penn State, so coach James Franklin made it a point of emphasis in spring ball and fall camp.
The Nittany Lions kept working at it during the season and kept getting better, peaking at the perfect time.
Trace McSorley threw for 342 yards and had both of his touchdown passes to DaeSean Hamilton on third-down plays, helping No. 9 Penn State outlast No. 12 Washington 35-28 in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.
“Our coaches did a fantastic job and the O line protected and the receivers made plays,” Franklin said. “We were very efficient. We executed.”
Penn State (11-2), No. 9 in the final College Football Rankings, had its way with Washington’s vaunted defense early, building a 28-7 lead by the second quarter. Washington (10-3) woke up from an offensive slumber with two touchdowns and pulled to 35-28 on Myles Gaskins’ 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies’ inability to stop Penn State on third down kept them from getting any closer.
The Nittany Lions converted three third-down attempts on a final clock-winding drive and were 13 for 17 overall. Washington had a final shot with a desperation play of multiple laterals and passes, but Dante Pettis’ final lateral was intercepted after he passed up a chance to step out of bounds to set up one more play.
“I think a lot of it was McSorley,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s buying time, getting out of there. And when we did get a little pressure on him, he stepped up nicely and took off and ran or bought time.”
Washington had the nation’s top run defense during the regular season, allowing 92 yards per game, but Saquon Barkley matched that on one run in the second quarter. Barkley had 137 of the Nittany Lions’ 203 yards rushing and two touchdowns in what could be his final game if he decides to turn pro.
The Huskies, No. 11 CFP, gave up a season-high 545 total yards.
“They had us on our heels most of the night,” Petersen said.
The Nittany Lions lost a chance at the CFP with consecutive losses to Ohio State and No. 24 Michigan State, but ended up in a familiar place: The Fiesta Bowl, where they had not lost in six previous trips.
Penn State raced toward No. 7 by going to the air early against the run-stingy Huskies.
McSorley picked Washington’s secondary apart, hitting nine receivers for 219 yards in the first half. He connected with DaeSean Hamilton on a 48-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive, and set up scoring runs of 2 yards by Barkley and 1 yard by Miles Sanders.
Barkley then did it all himself, bursting through the left side for a 92-yard touchdown run to put Penn State up 28-7.
The Nittany Lions had 367 yards by halftime against a defense that allowed 277.4 yards per game during the regular season.
“We came out flat in the first half,” Washington linebacker Tevis Bartlett said.
Washington was in the Fiesta Bowl for the first time, but Petersen had made a name for himself by trick-playing Boise State to a pair of Fiesta victories
Petersen reached into his trick-play bag to spark Washington from an early funk, calling a double pass that led to 52-yard gain to tight end Drew Sample. That set up Jake Browning’s 1-yard TD dive.
The Huskies turned a recovered fumble into a much-needed touchdown just before halftime, cutting Penn State’s lead to 28-14 on Gaskin’s 13-yard run.
Another big score came right after halftime: Browning 28 yards to Aaron Fuller.
But Penn State answered on another third down, when McSorley hit Hamilton on a 24-yard TD pass to put Penn State up 35-21.
“(Hamilton’s TD) was really, really important, because momentum was starting to swing there,” Franklin said.
Iowa State 21, No. 19 Memphis 20: At Memphis, Tennessee, Allen Lazard tied a Liberty Bowl record with 10 catches and put Iowa State ahead with a remarkable 5-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Iowa State (8-5) held after losing its first fumble this season just as it appeared on the verge of scoring an insurance touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The Cyclones led 21-20 and had third-and-goal from the 1 when David Montgomery fumbled as he was crossing the goal line. Jonathan Cook recovered in the end zone for a touchback with 4:06 left.
The call stood after replays were inconclusive as to whether Montgomery had reached the end zone before Memphis’ O’Bryan Goodson knocked the ball loose. Iowa State was attempting to become the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to play an entire season without losing a fumble.
Memphis (10-3) drove to the Iowa State 40 on its next possession but lost the ball on downs when Riley Ferguson overthrew Phil Mayhue on fourth-and-10 with 1:52 remaining.
Iowa State pulled ahead for good on a bizarre play with 4:28 left in the third quarter. On second-and-goal from the 5, Kyle Kempt’s pass appeared to elude Memphis safety Josh Perry’s outstretched arms and get tipped by Iowa State’s Marchie Murdock before Lazard caught it in the back of the end zone.
Lazard had 142 yards receiving.
No. 24 Mississippi State 31, Louisville 27: At Jacksonville, Florida, freshman Keytaon Thompson, making his first start in place of injured quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns to help Mississippi State beat Louisville and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Thompson and Jackson provided many of the highlights — and some lowlights.
Thompson scored twice in the fourth quarter, including a 1-yard plunge with 3:39 remaining that put the Bulldogs (9-4) ahead for good.
Jackson had the Cardinals (8-5) on the move late, but safety Mark McLaurin intercepted his third pass of the game. After a failed fourth-down conversation, Jackson got a final chance in the waning seconds, but his final desperation pass was batted away in the end zone.
Jackson completed 13 of 31 passes for 171 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He threw just six picks in the regular season. He ran 24 times for 158 yards and a touchdown, breaking the TaxSlayer Bowl record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Jackson also was sacked six times.
Jackson had the longest run of his career, a 75-yarder late in the second quarter.
Thompson completed 11 of 20 passes for 127 yards. He ran 27 times.