USC-Penn State Rose Bowl Preview


After USC’s 1-3 start, including three losses by AP Top 25 teams, everyone once again wrote USC out from playoff contention and coach Clay Helton’s seat was warming up real fast. But the quarterback switch to freshman Sam Darnold was like a defibrillator that revived USC’s season. They win eight straight games, including two wins against two teams that played each other in the conference championship as AP Top Ten teams (Colorado and Washington). They are one of the two hottest teams in college football right now and will play in the Rose Bowl as a home game with a chance to prove that they are legit again.


Sam Darnold concluded USC’s season with a 9-0 run and the offense is too good for Penn State to keep up with. The offensive line is too strong against Penn State’s defensive line. Juju Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers outplays Marcus Allen and the cornerbacks and USC eventually plays Adoree’ Jackson on offense to create schemes and trickery. Ronald Jones III breaks through Penn State’s rushing defense and sets up play action passes that further damages the coverage downfield. USC’s young defense has matured at the right time by shutting down running back Saquon Barkley, containing the receivers, and giving Trace McSorley little option to work with. USC creates turnovers left and right and makes it difficult for Penn State to recover from.


USC had a great run, but they play against Penn State’s defense that’s more experienced. Sam Darnold plays like a freshman and he’s too uncomfortable to stay in the pocket for long. USC’s offensive line can’t contain the pass rush and allows plenty of tackles for losses and sacks Darnold a little more later in the game. Ronald Jones III can’t find room to breakout and settles for short yardage runs and takes a few losses. One of USC’s top two receivers is shut down while the other gets the catches, but it’s not enough for USC’s offense. The defense is still young, so mistakes and miscues will likely happen. Penn State focuses on the run and sees how long USC’s front seven will hold up before they get tired. The passing game is skeptical despite defensive backs Adoree’ Jackson and Leon McQuay III making plays for them. The defense can’t stop Saquon Barkley and allows plenty of rushing yards for most of the game.


Penn State’s 2-2 start including a blowout at Michigan made some think that this was another Nittany Lion subpar season, but RB Saquon Barkley, QB Trace McSorley, and the Penn State defense eventually sparked the team’s nine-game winning streak with a Big Ten championship victory. Penn State’s offensive line cut the sacks allowed down to 23, 13 less than last year’s, while their tackles for loss total has increased each year since 2012, so they have no problem living in the opponent’s backfield. Penn State is one of the other hottest teams in college football right now and returns to the Rose Bowl, but they haven’t won there since 1995.


Penn State ends their season on a 10-0 run because of dual performances by Barkley and McSorley. Barkley runs over USC’s defense and McSorley finds his targets downfield. He’s not disrupted by USC’s pass rush and extends plays with his feet. If Adoree’ Jackson is covering one receiver, McSorley will find other options to go to. The defensive line has more strength and versatility than USC’s offensive line, and gets into the backfield most of the game to disrupt Sam Darnold and the running backs. The receivers are limited downfield and can’t space themselves out. Darnold loses confidence and trust in his line and immaturely throws the ball that ends up in Penn State's possession.


Saquon Barkley can’t run the ball due to the offensive line not opening lanes for him. McSorley can’t find his receivers and is pressured by USC’s front seven. The blitz keeps coming and McSorley is forced to throw the ball away or into coverage. He’s in the same situation as Christian Hackenberg was last season. The defense pressures Sam Darnold, but Darnold makes them pay with some short yardage throws that turns into big yardage gains. JuJu Smith-Schuster has a big day against Penn State’s defensive backs and Darreus Rogers has a big final game as a senior. Ronald Jones III begins to wear out the defense with his running game and continues to pound through the defensive line down to the third level of the defense.