Penn State’s Secondary Plays Lights Out In Rose Bowl Victory

Do you smell that? It smells like roses, folks!

Penn State capped off its 2022 season with a 35-21 victory over No. 8 Utah in the 2023 Rose Bowl. Sean Clifford finished his Penn State career in style, completing 16-of-21 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns in what will be one of the bigger storylines from the game. On the other side of the ball, though, Penn State’s secondary had one of its best games of the season.

On paper, the Nittany Lions allowed only 207 passing yards in the game and recorded two interceptions. That’s great, but it doesn’t tell the story of how the game progressed and how influential Penn State’s secondary really was in the flow of the contest.

Neither team was able to find many explosive plays and generate much energy to start the game, as both teams started with a three-and-out. The Nittany Lions couldn’t get much going on its second drive of the game before punting away to Utah. Then, Kalen King made his presence felt with an impressive interception to give Penn State the ball back.

Penn State then scored the game’s first touchdown, as it got a jolt of energy from King’s interception.

“I thought Kalen King’s interception really got us going and got us started,” head coach James Franklin said in his postgame press conference.

That was evident in the team’s play on the field. Penn State’s offense went down to score another touchdown, and the tightly-contested first half ended in a 14-14 tie.

The second half really then opened up for Penn State’s offense when Nick Singleton had his 87-yard house call. As the chaos picked up for the offense, the defense remained strong even with safety Jaylen Reed leaving the game earlier with an injury. Utah was held to just 34 passing yards in the third quarter on 11 attempts. The Utes weren’t able to cross Penn State’s 44-yard line in the frame.

Following the 2017 Rose Bowl, fans have held their breath after Penn State takes sizable leads, as it failed to put USC away that year. That wasn’t the case tonight. Penn State’s defense limited Utah’s passing attack and kept the Utes from gaining any sort of momentum to help secure a Rose Bowl victory.

Almost every player in the secondary stepped up and did their part when needed, which is really what that group has been all year. Cornerback Kalen King, who recorded Penn State’s first turnover of the game, praised his teammates for playing lights out.

“I knew they were going to step up,” King said in his postgame media availability. “Like I said previously, anytime somebody goes down in the room or somebody is not able to play, the next man up is just as good as the starters. In my opinion, we have the best corner group in the country and best secondary group in the country.”

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz agreed with King’s comments, as well.

“We felt like we’ve had the best secondary in the country all year long,” Diaz said after the game.

“All year we talked about our depth and the fact that we were able to run a bunch of guys all season…Our guys play to a standard, and I think Coach Poindexter and Coach Smith have done a phenomenal job with those guys all year.”

Given the circumstances and stage, this might have been one of the best games Penn State’s secondary had all season, especially since it went into lockdown mode as the Nittany Lions started to pull away on offense. It was complimentary football at its finest.

“We had offense being able to take advantage of opportunities and defense getting takeaways or stops to put us in better positions,” wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley said after the game. “It just works together and creates one of those things that’s hard to stop.”

Ji’Ayir Brown was probably the most influential player on Penn State’s defense. After all, he was named the game’s defensive MVP. The departing safety finished the game with a team-high eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception.

Already looking forward to next season, Penn State’s secondary is going to be loaded. With defensive back Storm Duck recently transferring to the program, the Nittany Lions will still have Keaton Ellis, Daequan Hardy, Zakee Wheatley, Kalen King, and more. The future is bright, but, for now, Penn State will enjoy its first Rose Bowl victory since 1995.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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