Sometimes a big bowl game actually lives up to the hype surrounding it. That was the case for The Rose Bowl Game when the USC Trojans took on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Tipped passes, slipping players, key players being injured, and big plays on both teams made for a memorable game.
Both teams came into this game on big winning streaks. Penn State has a nine game win streak going and USC had an eight game win streak going. Which team would crack first?
From the start of the game, it was obvious that Penn State had more nervous energy. The Nittany Lions could not muster anything on offense. Penn State quarterback, Trace McSorely, struggled mightily in the first couple of possessions. McSorely started off the game by throwing two interceptions in the Nittany Lions first two possessions. It was clear that the Penn State quarterback was nervous.
In fact, Trace McSorely, had a -100 rating as a quarterback during the first quarter.
However, after all the struggles, Penn State was only down 13-0 at the end of the first quarter. The game was not lost for Penn State at all. Penn State had a reputation for starting slow and they were simply living up to that reputation at that moment.
The lone bright spot for Penn State was the great play of running back Saquon Barkley. He was getting great runs and getting to the second level of the Trojan defense. I’m sure Barkley was waiting for McSorely to come out of his funk and join him in making the Rose Bowl a game.
Going into the second quarter USC was looking to put their foot to gas pedal and put Penn State into a hole from which they could not get themselves out from.
Early on in the second quarter, Penn State finally got on the scoreboard. Saquon Barkley rambled in from 24 yards and suddenly the Nittany Lions had life and some much needed momentum.
Momentum can be such a tricky thing to keep ahold of. USC, with its plethora of five star recruits, grabbed back some momentum by Sam Darnold throwing a touchdown pass to Deonta Burnett. The score was back to a two possession game at 20-7 in favor of the Trojans.
Now it was Penn State’s turn to comeback with a score to make it a game.
The Nittany Lions showed some moxie by scoring quickly in a four play, 71 yard drive. Trace McSorely capped off the quick strike drive by throwing a 30 yard pass to Chris Brown. Suddenly, it was shootout.
The Trojans were up 20-14.
Sam Darnold, the freshman quarterback, for USC who was showing great poise for such a young player all season, led the Trojans on a six play, 75 yard drive. Darnold threw a short three yard pass to Darreus Rodger and the game had taken on a personality of its own. It was 27-14 USC.
Did Penn State have it in them to respond again?
The Nittany Lions did it in spectacular fashion. Trace McSorely took the Penn State offense down the field on a five minute drive that was capped off with a phenomenal horizontal catch by tight end Mike Gesicki.
Going into the half it was 27-21 Trojans. The Trojans were going to receive the second half kickoff and could put even more pressure on Penn State.
Pressure? What pressure?
Penn State showed everybody during the season that they were a second half team.
USC takes their first possession of the second half and goes three and out. It’s exactly what Penn State wanted.
The fireworks started once Penn State took over with the ball. All it took was one play. One.
Saquon Barkley, who was proving to be a thorn to the USC defense, immediately took the handoff from McSorely and ripped off a spectacular 79 yard run. The Nittany Lions had taken their first lead of the game at 28-27.
Momentum was again seized by Penn State.
The Penn State was responding as well. The Nittany Lions were flying around and laying big hits on the Trojan offense. Penn State had raised the physicality of the game and was challenging the Trojans to join them in this physical play.
At this point, the Trojans seemed a little reluctant to play a physical game. Pac-12 teams are not exactly known to play physical. The Trojans were going to use their team speed on defense to disrupt the Penn State offense. Sometime it works, sometimes crazy things happen.
If the big run by Barkley wasn’t enough. I mean, he left Trojan defenders on the ground trying to chase him down.
McSorely throws a deep ball to Chris Godwin which was initially tipped by the USC defender, but Godwin found the ball still in the air. He grabbed it and scampered 72 yards and in a blink of an eye Penn State was ahead 35-27.
USC didn’t know what hit them. Most fans were in a stunned frame of mind as well.
By the time the fourth quarter started we had the makings of a classic game. A classic offensive game that is. It was 49-35 Penn State.
Could USC get their defense to make stops? That was the question of the game to that point.
If you don’t know who Sam Darnold is. You better get to know who he is. He’ll be on early Heisman watch lists entering into next season.
He showed his steadiness, buy taking the Trojans on a 10 play, 83 yard drive. Ronald Jones II scored the touchdown that closed the gap to 49-42 Penn State.
Like I stated earlier, USC had to make defensive stops to get the ball back.
The Trojans got the stop they so desperately needed.
Sam Darnold had to get his Trojan offense 80 yards downfield to tie the game.
In a quick three play drive, Darnold threw a dart of a touchdown pass to Deonta Burnett to even the score at 49-49. This was a Pac-12 After Dark type of game where anything and everything would happen. It did.
Penn State takes over and it may have seemed like the Nittany Lions may just try and take their chances in overtime. Nope.
The Penn State tried to get down the field to score and win the game. First deep pass is nearly intercepted. The second pass was intercepted and returned deep into Penn State territory. Penn State fans and everybody else couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
USC runs one play and then marches out their kicker. The next play, the kicker drills it and the Trojans walk off the field with a 52-49 win.
In the end, the Trojans made the plays they had to make to come out victorious. Penn State was left with the thought of what might have been.