PASADENA, Calif. — Everything that could go wrong in the opening minutes of Penn State’s return to the Rose Bowl, did.
It all could have been much worse for the Nittany Lions though, and an amazing late rally by the Big Ten champions managed to keep them in the Granddaddy of Them All as USC took a 27-21 lead into halftime.
Penn State’s opening sequence was straight from a coach’s nightmare, as the team muffed the initial kickoff to start at three and then Trojans corner Iman Marshall pulled down an interception on the very first offensive play after a horrible mixup had quarterback Trace McSorley throwing it right to the waiting cornerback.
USC failed to capitalize on that incredible start by going three-and-out and missing a field goal from 51 yards out. Do-everything star Adoree’ Jackson bailed the team out again however, picking off a pass tipped by the hands of wideout DeAndre Thompkins on McSorley’s second pass of the game.
Things went a little better for fellow quarterback Sam Darnold (251 yards, three scores in the half) on the next series, moving around in the pocket and firing a strike to an awaiting Deontay Burnett in the end zone for a 26 yard touchdown pass and the game’s first points. They would later tack on a pair of field goals to extend their lead in a dominant first quarter for what amounted to the home team in a sold out Rose Bowl.
The Nittany Lions were down but they certainly weren’t out despite all that. McSorley found his first completion on final play of the first quarter and, shortly thereafter, terrific tailback Saquon Barkley avoided the blitz and scampered 24 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and some much needed life on the PSU sideline.
USC would match them score-for-score as that run turned the final minutes of the second quarter into a shootout. McSorley forgot about his early troubles on the next drive, scrambling out of the pocket and then launching a laser to the end zone that receiver Chris Goodwin hauled in for the team’s second touchdown. Darnold marched the Trojans right down the field yet again on the next drive, tossing a lovely touchdown pass that Darreus Rogers out-muscled a defensive back for in the end zone. PSU tight end Mike Gesicki responded right back with a wild touchdown in the back of the end zone on the next drive.
After a number of blowouts this bowl season, it certainly appeared we were well on our way to another one given the way Penn State started the game. But a nice finishing flourish helped this one from getting too out of hand in a game that has been wildly entertaining — even if a bit one-sided in favor of the Trojans in their home away from home.