Washington State arrived at the Sun Bowl with the No. 1 passing offense in the nation, but it was the Cougars' 93rd-ranked defense that saved the day against Miami.
Quarterback Luke Falk threw two touchdown passes and Washington State forced three turnovers and came up with two big stands late in the fourth quarter to hold off Miami 20-14 on a snowy Saturday at the 82nd Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
The Cougars claimed their first bowl win since 2003.
"I didn't really keep track of that," WSU coach Mike Leach said of the bowl win drought. "I just figured we'd win this one and go from there."
Miami threatened twice inside WSU territory in the final four minutes. However, the Cougars forced two turnovers, with cornerback Marcellus Pippins recovering a fumble at the 5-yard line and safety Shalom Luani intercepting a pass on a Miami trick play at the 9-yard line to seal the win.
Both teams scored on their opening possessions, with Falk hooking up with Jamal Morrow on a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya answered with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Stacy Coley to tie the score 7-7. But the offenses began to slow down as the winter weather intensified. Snow fell heavily during portions of the game, and the offenses struggled going against the wind.
"It was both swirly and soaking wet," Leach said. "There was enough snow that it obstructed vision, windy enough that it obstructed balls and slippery enough that when you bring out one or two of those foot scraper things you turn out needing 11 of them. ... You just have to hang in there. The biggest thing it affects is consistency. There are people that have played in tougher conditions than we have this year. So if somebody is going to win the game, it might as well be you."
Washington State had the blustery wind at its back in the second quarter and capitalized. Defensive back Peyton Pelluer picked off Kaaya's pass inside the Cougars' 15-yard line and WSU took advantage of a poor punt and two Miami personal fouls in the final minute of the half to extend its lead. Falk connected with Gabe Marks on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:10 left, and Erik Powell's second field goal put WSU up 20-7 at halftime.
Miami got back into the game early in the fourth quarter on Mark Walton's short touchdown run. Braxton Berriors' 65-yard run to the WSU 5-yard line set up Walton's score that cut the deficit to 20-14 with 13 minutes to play. But Miami couldn't complete the comeback.
"End of the day we didn't make enough plays or the plays that we needed to make to win the game in the second half," Miami interim coach Larry Scott said. "But I am proud of the way this team fought and came back in the second half. The attitude of the team decided that they weren't going to let the weather or anything like that be a distraction or change our focus or what we came here to do. I am proud of the way that we came back and fought. We just didn't finish a couple plays that could have made a difference in the game."
Falk, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, emerged to lead the top passing attack in the nation. He completed 29 of 53 passes for 295 yards and the two touchdowns and finished with more than 4,500 yards passing and 38 touchdowns this season. He was named Sun Bowl MVP.
"It's awesome," Falk said of the win. "I think this is a good steppingstone, and I think the program is on the rise. It has just been a good team effort all season long. But now we want to carry the tradition."
Kaaya, a promising sophomore, finished 17 of 31 for 219 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
"All season long we finished games strong," Kaaya said. "The second half we never gave up and still went out to the field and played hard."
Washington State (9-4) bounced back from last season's 3-9 record to reach a bowl game for the second time in four seasons under Leach. The Cougars blew a big lead late in a bowl loss to Colorado State in 2013 but held off Miami in the fourth quarter.
The loss caps another up-and-down season for the Hurricanes (8-5), who saw coach Al Golden dismissed in October after a humiliating 56-0 loss to Clemson. Miami won four of its last five games entering the bowl.
Longtime Georgia coach Mark Richt, a former Miami quarterback, was hired in late November and is tasked with restoring the program to its former glory after a decade of mediocrity. The Hurricanes have not won a bowl game since 2006.
NOTES: Miami interim coach Larry Scott coached the Hurricanes, but his future with the program is uncertain. New coach Mark Richt has hired several position coaches and has not clarified Scott's status. ... Washington State recorded four sacks. ... WSU QB Luke Falk's 38 touchdown passes are a school record. ... Sun Bowl attendance was 41,180.