Two programs that have played through the ages of college football put on a Rose Bowl game for the ages with USC getting a 46 yard Field goal from Matt Boermeester with no time left on the clock for a 52-49 win over Penn State in Pasadena Monday night.
With the game tied at 49 in the closing minute, Penn State was mounting a drive for the go-ahead score, but quarterback Trace McSorley went to the deep desperation throw one too many times and was picked off by Trojans defensive back Leon McQuay who returned the interception from his own 35 yard line to the Penn State 33. Two plays and five yards later, Boermeester had the game winning kick.
USC got a record setting performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold with his five touchdown passes, to go with his 453 yards on 33 of 53 passing. The Trojans surprisingly needed every last yard from Darnold. His Penn State counterpart, McSorley, had his first two passes of the day intercepted and the Trojans jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead, making the game look like it was headed to blow-out status.
The Nittany Lions got a 24 yard touchdown run from Saquon Barkley early in the second quarter, and two touchdown passes from McSorley, to close the gap. When McSorley hit Mike Gesicki on an 11 yard touchdown pass with :54 left in the second, Penn State had outscored USC 21-14 in the quarter and cut the deficit to 27-21.
Before the capacity Rose Bowl crowd, (95,128), had even finished settling in their seats after halftime, Penn State showed some of that second half magic it had become known for this season, scoring three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the third quarter to rattle off 28 unanswered points, (going back to the second quarter), and completely changing the momentum of the game. Barkley had a 79 yard touchdown run two minutes into the third, McSorley hit Chris Godwin on a 79 yard touchdown pass, and, after a Darnold interception, McSorley ran three yards for a touchdown. Just like that it was 42-27 Penn State.
USC finally found the end zone again with just over six minutes to play in the third quarter when Darnold hit Juju Smith-Schuster for an 11 yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. The Trojans got the two-point conversion to make the score 42-35 and we were off and running for the wildest finish in recent Rose Bowl history.
Penn State answered with an 83 yard scoring drive that utilized Barkley more as a receiver than a running back. With the help of two personal foul penalties by the Trojans, (including a targeting call that led to the ejection of linebacker Cameron Smith), McSorley capped the drive with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Barkley that, ironically enough, burned McQuay. The Nittany Lions had outscored USC 28-8 in the third quarter and were up by what seemed like a comfortable 49-35 score going into the fourth quarter.
The Penn State defense had kept USC’s running attack bottled up most of the game. Ronald Jones II finished the game with only 55 yards on 20 carries, so it came down to Darnold, extending plays with his scrambling ability, taking the Trojans on an 83 yard touchdown drive in only 10 plays. Jones scored on a three yard scat up the middle and SC had again closed the gap to one touchdown at 49-42.
The two sides traded punts as Penn State was bit again by its season-long bugaboo of not converting enough on third down. Darnold took advantage, moving the Trojans 80 yards downfield, with the help of back-to-back Penn State pass interference calls. With 1:20 left in the game, he found Deontay Burnett across the middle for a 27 yard touchdown play, and Burnett’s third touchdown of the game, to tie the score at 49.
After a 35 yard kick return by Barkley, Penn State had good field position and still enough time to either get into reasonable field goal range or go conservative and play for overtime. Head coach James Franklin opted for the former. SC’s premier defensive back Adoree Jackson had left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury and Iman Marshall was in and out of the lineup with injury problems as well. The opening was there for Penn State.
McSorley tried going downfield on 2nd down, but throwing off his back leg, got nothing on the pass and it was nearly intercepted by McQuay. PSU went back to the same play on third down and this time McQuay did not miss, picking off the pass and returning it 32 yards into Penn state territory, setting up Boermeester’s game winning game at the end of regulation and the bedlam on the field from the Trojans.
In addition to Darnold’s Rose Bowl record for most touchdown passes, the two teams also set the record for most points in the game, (98), and most yards of offense (1,040). In a season where both teams got off to unexpected struggles and ended the regular season with significant winning streaks, it was only fitting that they put on the best post-season game thus far and a Rose Bowl for the ages.