Penn State uses big plays to beat Utah in the Rose Bowl

In a game that matched a Big Ten power, the Penn State Nittany Lions, against the Pac-12 conference champions, the Utah Utes, the Nittany Lions used big plays on offense to defeat the Utes 35-21 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl game, which is traditionally played on January 1 of each year, was moved to January 2nd to accommodate the NFL and for people who go to church on Sunday.

The Nittany Lions used six big plays of 20 yards or more to win the game. On their first scoring drive late in the first quarter, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford completed a 28-yard pass to tight end Theo Johnson for a first down at the 13-yard line. That setup a five-yard touchdown run from Nicholas Singleton for an early 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Penn State's second scoring drive was set up by Clifford completions of 32 yards to wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith on third and eight to the Utah 36-yard line and a Clifford 20-yard completion to wide receiver Harrison Wallace III to the Utah 10. That setup a ten-yard touchdown pass from Clifford to wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, giving PSU a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.

After each Penn State first half score, Utah answered with a touchdown of their own, with quarterback Cam Rising throwing for one score and Ja'Quinden Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 232 pound running back, plowing through Nittany Lions tacklers on a 19-yard touchdown run.

In the second half, the Nittany Lions used another big play to take the lead for good. On a third down and two at their own 13-yard line, Clifford handed off to Singleton, who got a couple of key blocks and took off untouched on an 87-yard touchdown run. On the play, the Utah safety blitzed to the opposite side of the line that Singleton ran through, leaving no deep safety help on the touchdown run.

After Rising left the game in third quarter with a leg injury, the Utah offense struggled. Penn State used another big play, a Clifford 88-yard bomb to a wide-open Lambert-Smith, to take a 28-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. A 27-yard completion to Wallace III helped setup the final Penn State touchdown, a Kaytron Allen one yard touchdown run. Utah scored a touchdown with 25 seconds remaining for the final score of the game.

After the game, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stated the obvious about his team's performance. "Defense got big played," Whittingham said. "Disappointing loss. Credit Penn State. They're a complete football team, played well. Quarterback was exceptional. High completion rate, threw for a bunch of yards, ran the ball efficiently enough."

Clifford completed 16 of 22 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns and was named the Offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. He could have easily shared the honor with Singleton, who rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns on just 7 carries, and Lambert-Smith, who caught 3 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. The offensive line was also impressive. Penn State head coach James Franklin had his team ready to play.

Utah has won back-to-back Pac-12 conference titles and made back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, losing both. The Utes played this game without two of their best players, tight end Dalton Kincaid and cornerback Clark Phillips III. Both were first team All-Pac-12 selections, and both opted out of the Rose Bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Mel Kiper of ESPN currently has Phillips rated as the 6th best cornerback in the nation and Kincaid as the 3rd best tight end in the country.

The Utes ended the season with a 10-4 record, while the Nittany Lions ended their season with an 11-2 record. The Utes have an unknown situation at quarterback with Rising, who has until January 16th to declare for the NFL Draft. Rising suffered a serious leg injury, according to Whittingham. He may need to return if he cannot work out for NFL scouts. Clifford is headed to the NFL.

The Rose Bowl game, known as "The Granddaddy of Them All," has traditionally matched Big Ten and Pac-12 teams. With the expansion of the playoffs from 4 teams to 12 teams in the 2024-2025 season, this could be the last time a Big Ten team plays a Pac-12 team in the Rose Bowl, at least in a postseason game. The 2024 Rose Bowl game will match two of the top four playoff teams.

The attendance of 94,873 fans was the best since the 2017 Rose Bowl game between USC-Penn State, but the TV Ratings were the lowest ever for a Rose Bowl game, with just 10.2 million viewers. That beat all the other bowl games but is a sign that football fans prefer to watch college football playoff games, not meaningless bowl games. Which is why the Rose Bowl game in the future will be a playoff game.


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