The Nittany Lions converted 13 of 17 third downs, mostly thanks to the play of quarterback Trace McSorley.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Whatever his failures were on the field — and there weren’t many in his admirable career for the Huskies — Keishawn Bierria never failed to stand up off the field and take responsibility for what happened with the Washington defense.
Whether he truly deserved blame, the senior linebacker said Saturday some of the Huskies’ third-down breakdowns in their 35-28 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl were on him.
“A few of (those) third downs were definitely on me — my eyes on Trace McSorley,” said Bierria, a team captain. “He stepped up, I stepped up, he throws it right over me. Maybe three or four of those third downs are on me. They just made plays. Defense, we understood that going in. We game planned that. And we understood third down is a money down, you’ve got to get off the field.”
The Huskies didn’t do that often enough Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium. Penn State converted 13 of its 17 third downs — and that, ultimately, was the story of the game.
Credit McSorley, Penn State’s dual-threat quarterback, for much of that. Too often when it appeared a UW defender would have him cornered in the backfield, he got away and completed a pass downfield for a first down. It was, in a word, agonizing for the Pac-12’s top-ranked defense.
“We’ll look at the tape, but I think a lot of it was McSorley,” UW 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.”
McSorley completed 32-of-41 passes for 324 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions (by UW’s Byron Murphy and Austin Joyner). Both of his touchdown passes went to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, including a 48-yard strike on the game’s opening drive.
“At the end of the day I think the thing that swung it in our direction was third down on offense,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We were fantastic on third down on offense today.”
Penn State’s 35 points are the most the UW defense has allowed in any game since a 44-30 loss to UCLA in November 2014. The Huskies had gone 26 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to top 30 points.
“If you can’t get off the field on third down, it’s going to be hard to get a win,” Joyner said. “When a team converts at a rate they did, it creates a huge challenge for our offense to try keep up. Because we didn’t need to do what we needed to do on defense.”