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No. 11 Penn State Trounces No. 8 Utah 35-21 In 2023 Rose Bowl

No. 11 Penn State football (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten) convincingly defeated No. 8 Utah (10-4, 7-2 Pac-12) 35-21 in Pasadena, California to secure a huge postseason win at the 2023 Rose Bowl.

Captain Sean Clifford led the day with a near-perfect showing. Completing 73% of his passes, Clifford racked up 279 passing yards and two touchdowns. Running back Nick Singleton recorded 120 rushing yards on just seven carries, including an 87-yard touchdown run, while the Nittany Lions’ defense controlled the majority of the second half.

How It Happened

Penn State received the opening kickoff, but ultimately faced a three-and-out after allowing a third-down sack. After a Barney Amor punt gave Utah its first possession of the game, the Utes responded with a three-and-out of their own.

The impact of a 17-yard sprint from Nick Singleton was quickly squandered by another meager three plays from Penn State’s offense, again bringing Amor out to punt. Finally something began clicking, as Utah quarterback Cam Rising led his offense to three first down conversions. The Utes’ forward progress evaporated when Penn State’s Kalen King intercepted a deep pass to the slot receiver.

Sean Clifford and Kaytron Allen led a march downfield, highlighted by a 28-yard needle thread by Clifford to Theo Johnson and a 16-yard run by Allen. As momentum stalled for the Nittany Lions, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich turned to the T Formation, sparking a five-yard touchdown scamper from Singleton. With the score, Singleton secured his 13th touchdown of the season, setting Penn State’s all-time freshman record. After Jake Pinegar’s extra point, Penn State led 7-0 with seven seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Utah’s ensuing offensive drive was efficient even if not flashy. Although Rising and his offense only generated one play eclipsing 10 yards, not a single play went negative. The series culminated in a 1-yard passing touchdown to Thomas Yassmin when linebacker Abdul Carter lost him in coverage. A converted extra point tied the score 7-7 with under eight minutes left in the half.

On the heels of a successful kickoff return from Allen, Penn State struck back fast. In a six-play, three-minute scoring drive, Clifford completed passes of 32 and 20 yards en route to a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Tinsley. An extra point from Pinegar gave Penn State a 14-7 lead with under five minutes remaining in the first half.

When Utah’s offense resumed possession, King was not on the field for Penn State. Rising took advantage with a poorly defended 47-yard bomb to DeVaughn Vele. Three plays later, Ja’Quinden Jackson barreled over nearly half the Nittany Lions’ defense to tie the game 14-14. Two and a half minutes remained in the first half.

On the next drive, a 16-yard Clifford pass to Tinsley picked up an early third down. The Nittany Lions could not overcome a sack two plays later, eventually sending Amor out for another punt. With just under a minute left, Utah’s offense came out hot on the first play with Rising tucking it for a 15-yard scramble. Of the next six plays, only one went for positive yardage as Rising completed one-of-five passes and took a sack to close the half.

Utah opened the second half with the ball. Three first down conversions, including two plays of 10 or more yards, put the Utes in a rhythm. Penn State’s defense rallied to snag a sack on a trick play and forcing two consecutive incompletions.

Two consecutive passes from Clifford offered mixed results –– one falling incomplete while the other racked up eight yards. On third down, Singleton broke through the offensive line and outran everybody on the field, scoring an 87-yard touchdown run. Pinegar put the Nittany Lions up 21-14 with nine and a half minutes left in the third.

The Utes’ next drive quickly brought up third down. On the conversion attempt, Rising peeled outside and took a hit from three Nittany Lion defenders. Although he picked up the necessary yardage, Rising had to exit the field with an injury. Five plays after backup quarterback Bryson Barnes relieved Rising, Ji’Ayir Brown snatched the team’s second interception.

The Nittany Lions were unable to capitalize, punting after an underwhelming three-and-out. Amor’s punt pinned Utah at the 11-yard line. Though Utah pulled off a 30-yard run, a subsequent sack proved too much to overcome, as the punt team was ushered out yet again. The third quarter ended with Penn State in control of the ball.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Clifford linked up with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for an 88-yard pass. Not only did the play log a score for Penn State, it also went down as the longest passing play in Rose Bowl history.

A Utah three-and-out characterized by a sack and a 3-yard loss invited the Nittany Lion offense back onto the field. After a 27-yard dime to Trey Wallace and a 10-yard pass to Tinsley, Clifford recorded a 9-yard rush to place Penn State at the goal line. Out of the T Formation, Allen picked up his first touchdown of the game. Pinegar’s extra point made it 35-14 with 10 and a half minutes remaining in the game.

A first-down penalty on Penn State moved the chains for Utah, but three unsuccessful plays set up another punt. Clifford retook the field with eight and a half minutes left in the game, but the Nittany Lions punted after three run plays. When Utah’s offense took possession, they chipped away at Penn State’s defense but were still forced to punt.

Penn State resumed control of the ball with under three and a half minutes left in the game, putting reserves like running back Tank Smith on the field. After the Nittany Lions picked up a long first down, Penn State took a moment to sub Clifford off the field, earning him a rousing ovation for the conclusion of his career.

True freshman quarterback Drew Allar relieved a sobbing Clifford of his role and dutifully ran down the clock. Utah mounted a minor drive down the field –– to the boos of a tired and wet Rose Bowl stadium –– scoring a morale-boosting touchdown, cutting the score to 35-21. Penn State finished the game in Pasadena as Rose Bowl champions.

Takeaways

  • In his last-ever collegiate game, sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford exhibited his veteran status. Clifford finished the near-perfect game with 16-of-22 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns, as well as the longest pass play in Rose Bowl history. Potentially lost among the flashy moments was Clifford’s pre-snap poise at the line of scrimmage. Oftentimes eating much of the play clock, Clifford shifted protections and baited Utah’s defense into revealing information. The swan song of the record-breaking quarterback’s career could not have been more poetic.
  • Safety Ji’Ayir Brown had a monster game typical of the season he had. Brown finished the game with eight total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. A year after leading the NCAA in interceptions and weeks after being named Penn State’s team MVP, Brown’s strong game in coverage and as a pass rusher was a fitting sendoff of another valuable veteran.
  • On his five-yard touchdown in the first half, true freshman running back Nick Singleton became Penn State’s first 1,000 yard rusher since Miles Sanders in 2018. With 120 yards at the Rose Bowl on just seven carries, Singleton ended his year with 1,087 rushing yards. His explosive day was epitomized by a Saquon-esque touchdown run for 87 yards in the second half.
  • Manny Diaz’s defense showed few moments of weakness. Although the first half ended in a 14-14 deadlock, the Nittany Lions made it difficult for the Utes’ offense to accomplish much. Utah quarterback Cam Rising entered the game as a huge threat, but only entered a pedestrian 8-of-21 passing and 95 yards. Following Rising’s injury, Bryson Barnes was summarily controlled by his opponents, who finished the game with six sacks.

What’s Next

That’s a wrap on the 2022 season. Penn State football will not return until its Blue-White Game on April 15 inside Beaver Stadium.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected]om or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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