Penn State won with a high-risk, high-reward offense all season. Monday night in the Rose Bowl, the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions saw their nine-game winning streak ended by the same philosophy.
Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal on the final play of the game gave No. 9 Southern California a 52-49 win against Penn State in Pasadena, Calif., capping a USC rally from 14 points down in the fourth quarter. Penn State scored touchdowns on its first three plays of the second half — high-reward — and had a 49-35 lead midway through the fourth quarter before USC (10-3) rallied.
The Trojans tied the score on a 27-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman Sam Darnold to wide receiver Deontay Burnett with 1 minute, 20 seconds left.
The winning kick was set up by the high-risk — a 32-yard interception return by USC’s Leon McQuay to the Penn State 33-yard line with 27 seconds remaining.
Sophomore RB Saquon Barkley, redshirt sophomore QB Trace McSorley and junior WR Chris Godwin each set or equaled Penn State bowl records, but it wasn’t enough for the Nittany Lions (11-3).
Penn State scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions after a disastrous first quarter that included a mishandled opening kickoff return and interceptions on each of McSorley’s first two pass attempts. The Nittany Lions turned a 27-14 hole into a 42-27 lead midway through the third quarter with 28 straight points, many of them of the big-yardage variety.
Five things we learned
1. Despite the loss, Penn State again displayed its resiliency. USC’s 13-0 lead should have been larger but the Trojans missed one field goal and had to settle for 3 points on two other drives, including one that stalled at the Penn State 4-yard line. USC led 27-21 at halftime, marking the eighth time Penn State either trailed or was tied at halftime. The Nittany Lions went 5-3 in those games.
2. Barkley rushed for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 carries to break Blair Thomas’ team bowl record of 186 yards set in the 1989 Holiday Bowl. Barkley added 55 yards and a touchdown on 5 receptions on Monday.
3. Godwin equaled his own school record with a 72-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter that gave Penn State a 35-27 lead. Godwin caught 9 passes for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns. He broke the previous school single-bowl game receptions record of eight, set by Andrew Quarless in the 2010 Capital One Bowl. David Daniels had the previous receiving yards record of 154 yards in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl.
4. McSorley completed 18 of 29 passes for 254 yards and 4 touchdowns to somewhat offset his early interceptions. The 4 touchdown passes equaled the school bowl record shared by Tony Sacca (1992 Fiesta), Wally Richardson (1996 Outback) and Christian Hackenberg (2014 Pinstripe).
5. The College Football Playoff committee would love to have one of these games in its national semifinals.
Boermeester’s winning field goal. He had missed two previous kicks from 51 and 49 yards but the winner was straight down the middle.
How would Penn State’s big play offense stand up to a USC defense that was allowing just 18.6 points during an 8-game win streak? After a rough first quarter, McSorley & Co. did to the Trojans what they had been done to nearly every other team it faced this season.
How will the College Football Playoff committee handle the question of conference champions in the future? Penn State won the Big Ten title and beat Ohio State during its 9-game win streak but was left out of the playoff bracket because of two losses in the first month of the season. That issue ultimately had no bearing on this game but the committee will have to deal with the question again because of how Penn State performed, even in defeat.
McSorley entered the game averaging 9.4 yards per pass attempt and 16.1 yards per completion but was just 1 of 6 for 2 yards in the first quarter. His first five attempts were incompletions, including interceptions on his first two throws. He was 17 of 23 for 252 yards, and four touchdowns in the final three quarters but his final throw is one he’d like to have back.
What it means
The Big Ten finishes the bowl season 3-7.