Nestled in the mountains of Pasadena, No. 5 Penn State and No. 9 USC squared off on Monday for the third time in the Granddaddy of Them All — the 103rd Rose Bowl.
Despite scoring seven straight touchdowns during the second and third quarters, James Franklin’s Nittany Lions (11-3) had their hearts broken on a 46-yard field goal from Matt Boermeester as time expired. USC has now won all three of its Rose Bowl matchups with the Nittany Lions (1923, 2009).
How It Happened
Penn State won the coin toss and elected to receive. Freshman running back Miles Sanders had a difficult time fielding the opening kickoff and had to fall on the football at the three-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Trace McSorley was picked off by sophomore corner Iman Marshall. The Nittany Lion defense held strong, however, forcing USC to attempt a 51-yard field goal that sailed wide right.
Just after Penn State had crossed midfield on its next drive, McSorley was again intercepted — this time by all-purpose star Adoree’ Jackson. The Trojans cruised 51 yards on five plays on their way to the first points of the ballgame. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold found Deontay Burnett from 26 yards out to make it 7-0 with 10:31 to go in the first quarter. USC, who entered Monday’s contest 4-0 on the season when Burnett scores, would increase its lead to 10-0 roughly six minutes later. Redshirt junior kicker Matt Boermeester redeemed himself by driving a 22-yard field goal through the uprights with 4:42 on the clock.
USC added to its margin on yet another lengthy drive its next time out. Boermeester would come up clutch with a 44-yard kick to give head coach Clay Helton’s bunch a 13-0 lead — one it would take into the second quarter. Penn State finally broke through as McSorley led the offense on a nine-play, 70-yard drive that Saquon Barkley finished off in style. The stud sophmore burst 24 yards up the middle to cut USC’s lead to 13-7 with 11:44 to go in the half.
The Trojans quickly drove down the field into Penn State territory thanks to a pair of chunk plays from Burnett and Justin Davis, who recorded 32 and 24-yard gains, respectively. USC hit paydirt on a three-yard pass from Darnold to Burnett moments later, which was initially called back for offensive pass interference. However, after a puzzlingly-long wait, the officials deemed that it was indeed a score because the throw was tipped behind the line of scrimmage. The Trojans took a 20-7 lead with 10:15 on the clock.
McSorley and the Nittany Lions answered right back, going 71 yards in just four plays to cut the deficit to 20-14. The Ashburn, Va., native hit junior wideout Chris Godwin with a 30-yard gem in the right corner of the end zone over Adoree’ Jackson that stood after a brief review. Keeping with the theme of the afternoon, USC wasted little time dialing up a response. Darnold hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a big 36-yard gain that allowed the Trojans to score again a few plays later. Darreus Rogers hauled in a three-yard touchdown pass from Darnold — his third of the day — to make it 27-14 with 6:16 to go in the half.
Penn State needed to put some points on the board before halftime. The Nittany Lions crossed midfield thanks to another solid series from Godwin. The Middletown, Del., native corralled a pair of beautiful catches to extend the drive and blow by the century mark for the game. His eight grabs set a new season-high. Penn State capitalized on its opportunity, as McSorley dropped a dime for Mike Gesicki from 11 yards away. The junior went airborne and came down with a huge momentum-changer to make it 27-21 with :54 left before halftime. USC scared the Nittany Lions with a last-minute drive, but Boermeester’s 49-yard field goal sailed wide right as time expired.
Penn State is a second-half team, to be certain. It backed that up after forcing the Trojans to punt on their first drive. Saquon Barkley took the first play from scrimmage 79 yards to the house on what is sure to be the SportsCenter Top Play of the night. The sophomore made multiple Trojan defenders look silly en route to one of the greatest touchdowns in program history, giving the Nittany Lions their first lead of the evening, 28-27. Another one-play strike highlighted the next time Penn State took the field. This time, Godwin bobbled one down the left sideline but his sure hands ensured a breakaway score from 72 yards out to make it 35-27.
Brandon Bell came up with a huge interception on the second play of USC’s next drive. He took it back to the Trojan three-yard line but went down with an injury. Thankfully, Bell was able to walk off under his own power moments later. McSorley kept with tradition by punching it in on the very next play to give Penn State a 42-27 lead.
The Trojans finally broke their scoring drought on the next series, however, as Darnold led them down the field for an eventual 13-yard touchdown to Smith-Schuster. USC cashed in on a wild two-point conversion to make it 42-35 with 6:47 left in the third. Barkley tallied his third score of the night on a seven-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to give Penn State a 49-35 lead and some much-needed breathing room.
The Nittany Lions nearly coughed the ball up their next time out, but freshman guard Connor McGovern saved it as a review turned the fumble over. Penn State scored 49 points in the second and third quarters combined. Gillikin would soon come on to punt, breaking a seven-touchdown streak for the Nittany Lion offense.
USC cut Penn State’s advantage to 49-42 on a three-yard touchdown run by sophomore Ronald Jones II, who honored the late Joe McKnight by wearing his No. 4 today. The Nittany Lions punted the ball away and buckled down on defense with a one-score lead to protect. They did just that, getting the ball back thanks to some stingy play from Brent Pry’s defense. Juniors Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen led the way with a game-high 11 and nine tackles, respectively. Barkley broke Blair Thomas’ longstanding Penn State bowl rushing record (1989) with 194 yards on the ground. The Coplay, Pa., native finished with 249 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Penn State punted the ball away once more, but the Trojans found some magic this time around, as Darnold hit Burnett from 27 yards out to tie things up at 49-49 with 1:20 to go. USC would rally for the comeback victory as Boermeester nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Trojans the 2017 Rose Bowl crown.
Player Of The Game
Sam Darnold | Quarterback | Redshirt freshman
The San Clemente, Calif., native was phenomenal Monday, leading the Trojans on a last-minute drive to win the game. He finished 33-of-53 for 453 yards and five touchdowns to just one interception. Darnold, the Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game, added 20 rushing yards on five carries.
Penn State will regroup heading into the offseason, but at the end of the day, this was still a spectacular year for the Nittany Lions.