PASADENA, Calif. — The Granddaddy of Them All lived up to the billing. And then some.
In one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in the game’s illustrious history, USC capped a wild second half with a Matt Boermeester 46 yard field goal as time expired to top Penn State 52-49.
It was a result nearly everybody in the stadium would have expected given the way the game began, but few could have imagined would have played out the way it did in the game’s 103rd edition. After all, the Big Ten champions’ first two passes of the game resulted in a pair of awful interceptions. But — as usual this season — the Nittany Lions underwent yet another metamorphosis after a trip to the locker room and bounced back in the second half to set up an instant classic.
As bad as those first few plays were for the blue and white, everything went the opposite way to begin the third quarter as Penn State’s first three plays of the second half all resulted in a trio of miraculous touchdowns to completely flip the game. Tailback Saquon Barkley (194 yards, two scores) kicked things off by zigging and zagging 79 yards to the end zone for one of the best runs the hallowed ground has ever seen.
The Nittany Lions weren’t done yet. Wideout Chris Godwin hauled in his second incredible touchdown of the day in even more impressive fashion than his first, tipping, and juggling, a pass to himself before going 72 yards to the end zone. The blue and white weren’t done yet, as Brandon Bell picked off USC quarterback Sam Darnold on the ensuing series and returned it down to the three yard line. Trace McSorley (254 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions) punched it in on the next play to finish off a 28 point run for Penn State that sent the 95,128 into a frenzy in different ways depending on what color they were wearing.
The Trojans would not go quietly into the night and preceded to live up to their motto, fighting on to a big response when offensive MVP Darnold (453 yards, five touchdowns and a pick on the night) found the end zone on the ensuing possession by hooking up with ever-reliable receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
After a whacky two point conversion brought USC to within a touchdown, McSorley and company responded right back by mounting a lengthy 82 yard scoring drive that capped off a run of seven touchdowns on seven series. They would get no further on the scoreboard however.
The two traded big plays back-and-forth (on both sides of the ball) in the final quarter before Darnold led a drive that very well could go down in the program’s illustrious history as one its finest moments, marching 80 yards in just three plays before finding Deontae Burnett in the back of the end zone to conclude a heroic 164 yard and three score effort for the young receiver.
The Trojans defense forced three fourth quarter punts and then picked off McSorley with just 27 seconds left in the game to set Boermeester up for his kick and complete the thrilling comeback for the ages.
It was a finish that was quite fitting given that the two teams were the hottest in the country coming in, having not suffered a loss since late September. The result ended most of the talk that Penn State deserved to be in the College Football Playoff in lieu of Ohio State and should do nothing to slow down talk that both the Nittany Lions and USC should enter the 2017 season in the top five of the preseason polls.
The end of the chilly Southern California night belonged to the Trojans though, who finished off a remarkable comeback of their own from a 1-3 start to the season to emerge as Rose Bowl champions.