Last Second FG Wins Rose Bowl for USC
The mighty #5 Penn State Nittany Lions bowed to the #9 USC Trojans after putting up one helluva fight in a classic Rose Bowl that will be long remembered. The final score of 52-49 only begins to tell the tale of what was a compelling and highly entertaining sixty minutes of college football in a time-honored venue.
As I wrote last night in my postgame “what could have been” state, the loss by the Nittany Lions does not detract from their magical season and their future promise. They still have some glaring weaknesses, but I’m now a believer. The positive attitude, the JoMo scheme, and the team’s youth portend well. Who thought that they could have come so far so soon?
Back to the game, we had the usual, frustratingly slow, nerve-wracking Penn State start. Having won the toss and opted to receive, the very first Penn State play involved Miles Sanders misjudging the kickoff, muffing the ball, pinning the Lions inside the 5 yard-line. On the first play from scrimmage, Trace McSorley threw an interception leading to a short USC drive terminated by a failed field goal attempt. On the next drive, after three decent first down runs by Saquon Barkley, McSorley threw his second interception, this one to the vaunted Adoree’ Jackson.
On the other side of the ball, the Trojans were moving the ball well against the Penn State defense that was missing starting linebacker Manny Bowen, and would wind up scoring a touchdown and two field goals in the first quarter.
Penn State was able to manage a nine-play touchdown drive to start the second quarter, and became re-energized after that. Down a wide receiver due to the suspension of Saeed Blacknall, McSorley wanted to concentrate his throws toward Chris Godwin, a penchant that would ultimately result in the Lions’ demise after the third and final interception of the day, but I digress. Having decided to be a “second quarter team” as well as a “second half team” enabled Penn State to avoid an embarrassing blowout.
Third Quarter Fireworks
The fun peaked in the third quarter, as the Nittany Lions put 28 points on the board while USC scored only 8, allowing PSU take a 49-35 lead as the fourth quarter opened. Penn State was once again cementing its reputation as a second-half team. We all began to feel comfortable and confident that the Lions were going to ring the victory bell for one final time to put a wonderful lid on a magical season.
However, USC had something else to say about that. All game long, they had been able to move the ball against Penn State’s defense, largely due to the latter’s inability to put pressure on freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. He had all day to throw, and when he ran, he eluded tackles. Penn State recorded just one team sack all day, while Darnold would go on to tie or break several Rose Bowl records.
Now, senior PSU linebacker Brandon Bell had suffered an injury and State was down yet another linebacker. But another curious thing happened at that point.
Sphincter Mode Redux
In the fourth quarter, leading 49-35, it appeared to me as if the Penn State offensive coaching brain trust wanted to revive St. Joe Paterno “sphincter mode”, protecting a two touchdown lead by running out the clock. This, along with the defense’s inability to stop the Trojans, led to the defeat. I was thinking, “You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Go home with the guy who brought you to the dance. Etc., etc.” All those damn clichés. Hell, we all know about the third-down conversion crappiness of this team — so, how the hell can our geniuses assume that they can produce a long, clock-chewing drive?
Yeah, I know that it is the usual procedure to try to run the clock out with a two-score lead. But I’m thinking that the strategy failed because of invalid assumptions about this team’s ability to play ball-control football.
Hindsight, as they say, is always 20-20. I write about this crap; I never coached a game. I have to assume that these coaches know a helluva lot more about the game of football in their big toenails than I’ll ever know in the entirety of my being. However, I saw what I saw, and I think there might have been a better way.
The first three fourth quarter drives ended in punts: two three-and-outs, and a five play drive that went for only 10 yards. Meanwhile, USC was advancing at will against the Penn State defense, knotting the score at 49.
The Bitter End
On what would be the last Penn State drive, JoMo and Company strangely reversed the strategy. While everyone thought the Nittany Lions would be content to grind it out on the ground against a USC defense that was missing Adoree’ Jackson at that point and play for overtime, suddenly the sphincter let loose — and the whole load hit the fan when McSorley’s 30-some yard pass attempt, once again targeting Godwin, was intercepted by Leon McQuay III and returned 32 yards into field goal range with 27 seconds on the clock.
The end was swift. The ball sailed through the uprights with :00 left on the clock.
Why our Brain Trust decided to play conservative, sit-on-the-lead football against a team that was moving the ball so well will be asked by many, and will receive the usual justifications. In the end, we’ll be convinced that the game could have gone either way regardless. I guess I want to believe that, too.
Some Big Numbers
Trace McSorley was 18-29 for 254 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Saquon Barkley had a huge-ass day, with 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries on the ground, coupled with five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Chris Godwin had nine receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Gesicki also had one spectacular catch for 11 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Jason Cabinda had 11 tackles, and Marcus Allen had 9. The solitary TFL was recorded by Malik Golden. Brandon Bell had an interception.
On the Trojan side, freshman Sam Darnold burned up the record books with a 33-53, 453 yard performance, with five touchdowns and one interception. His leading receiver was Deontay Burnett with 13 catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns. JuJu Smith-Schuster added 7 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. Darreus Rogers had an additional five catches for 42 yards and a touchdown.
It’s a Record Breaker!!
The 103rd Rose Bowl was a barn-burner, as old 88 year-old Keith Jackson, who was attending his first Rose Bowl since calling the 2006 epic, would say. This memorable game tied or exceeded eight different records.
- Deontay Burnett of USC tied the record for touchdown receptions, with three.
- Matt Boermeester tied the record number of field goals made, with three.
- Penn State scored the most points ever for a losing team.
- USC registered the biggest fourth-quarter comeback.
- Trace McSorley and Sam Darnold each were responsible for five touchdowns, equaling the Rose Bowl record.
- Of the two quarterbacks, Darnold passed for all of his touchdowns, setting a new record for passing touchdowns.
- Darnold accounted for 32 total ponts, setting another new Rose Bowl record.
- Oh, and one more thing. Darnold wound up with 474 total yards, breaking Vince Young’s 2006 Rose Bowl record of 467 yards by a single player.
Putting the Season in Perspective
This was a great year for Penn State football. The Rose Bowl loss did not sting me so badly because we were facing another hot team with a wunderkind quarterback with a hot hand (although our defense’s inability to put pressure on him disappointed me). And I think to some extent, PSU’s performance in the Rose Bowl, even in a losing cause, redeemed the Big Ten’s bowl season. (Alas, the Big Ten sure will look shitty in its bowl performance this year.)
I think we have a lot of great things to look forward to as Penn State fans. Can you imagine how great these positive-minded lads will be if they can fix the offensive line and figure out how to convert third downs while beefing up a healthy front seven on defense to produce a formidable pass rush? I can’t wait to watch.
Eight months. Damn!