Though tonight’s 52-49 instant classic didn’t end in favor of the Nittany Lions, there’s no denying that it, like Penn State’s season, was special in every sense of the word. It was arguably the greatest Rose Bowl of all time.
“Tonight, obviously, was a small sample in what may have been the most exciting Bowl Bowl Game ever,” James Franklin said afterward. “That game tonight doesn’t define us. It’s the whole season, it’s what these guys did, it’s how they persevered, it’s how they loved one another, it’s how they cared for one another. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Monday’s epic clash between Penn State and USC — the third time these storied programs have met in Pasadena — set the all-time Rose Bowl record for points scored (101). The next closest was Oregon-Wisconsin in 2012 (45-38).
Fans were treated to heart-stopping fireworks galore. There was Saquon Barkley’s otherworldly 79-yard touchdown run (actually, he traveled 118.4), Chris Godwin’s spectacular bobbled catch for a 72-yard strike, and USC kicker Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard game-winner as time expired, just to name a few.
“We were able to stop their running game, we were able to minimize Adoree’ [Jackson] in the return game, but to me,” Franklin said, “the difference in the game was the turnovers and their offensive line kind of neutralizing us.”
Penn State’s third-year head coach got emotional at the postgame press conference podium, where he sat alongside Barkley and safety Malik Golden.
“Malik and his other seniors have been through so much in this program, and me specifically, and Penn State, will be indebted to you for a very long time,” Franklin said choking back tears.
Following a marathon four-hour-plus contest, Golden tried his best to sum up the roller coaster ride that he and his teammates have been on the last few years.
“We just put so much effort into this season, and it hurts. It was the first time I ever cried after a loss in college. We’ve had some highs and lows, but I’m forever grateful to be a Penn Stater.”
Franklin shifted the focus to what his job is really all about: preparing his student-athletes to be successful in whichever endeavor they choose after college.
“I know everybody focuses on wins and losses, but this isn’t the NFL. There is a greater purpose for this. Whether it’s in the NFL or whether it’s a CEO or whatever it is, I’m really nice to Malik, because I’m probably going to end up working for him one day,” Franklin said with a chuckle.
“That’s what college athletics is all about. It’s about preparing young people, allowing them to be in situations to overcome adversity, and preparing them to go on and be successful in life. And that’s what we’re going to do at Penn State today, and always will.”
Barkley broke Penn State’s bowl game rushing record with 194 yards on the ground, eclipsing Blair Thomas’ longstanding mark set in 1989. He also set a new career-high for all-purpose yards with a ridiculous 306 (55 receiving, 57 return). Thomas imparted some wisdom with the star sophomore on the field after the game.
Blair Thomas shares a few words with Saquon Barkley before he departs to the locker room. pic.twitter.com/QSePet0y12
— Onward State (@OnwardState) January 3, 2017
Barkley knows the Nittany Lions will be back stronger than ever next fall. The Coplay, Pa., native offered a glimpse into what his message will be for his teammates this offseason in the locker room.
“We’re still a young team with a lot of guys coming back, so use that as motivation and try to be the best team we can be next year,” Barkley said. “Don’t forget about it. Don’t forget that feeling when the confetti came down and USC stormed the field. Don’t forget about that feeling you had in your stomach and that disgusting taste you had in your mouth.”