As Penn State’s last number twenty two said during the game, there was a reason why Akeel Lynch left Penn State.
After a comparatively lackluster set of games to end the regular season (including a performance below expectations against a very stout Wisconsin defense in the Big Ten Championship game), Saquon Barkley came out on fire on January 2nd. He forced USC to focus their defense on the ground game (to no avail) and opened up lanes downfield for his teammates.
The conference’s Offensive Player of the Year had 194 yards on the ground (down from over 200 before he lost a chunk on his last offensive touch of the day) on 25 carries with two TDs, and reeled off a series of highlight-inducing plays, like this one on PSU’s first offensive snap after halftime:
Barkley added on 55 yards and a touchdown receiving out of the backfield in his most complete game since the Nittany Lions demolished Iowa, and he returned the last two Trojan kickoffs in an attempt for Penn State to find another spark that they had lost in the fourth quarter.
A close second: Chris Godwin
After being somewhat silent in Indianapolis (only three catches for 33 yards, the team’s fourth receiver on the day), Godwin was truly deity-like in the Rose Bowl, finishing with 9 receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns and seemingly coming down with any ball, catchable or no, thrown in his direction.
Beating vaunted USC all purpose back Adoree Jackson on a number of plays, PSU’s number one wideout came down with catches that no mere mortal should be able to reel in, like this one:
So far, Godwin hasn’t declared for the NFL draft; if he goes to the league after this season, he made a big case for being picked within the first two days.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention:
Trace McSorley Penn State doesn’t mount the comeback without the signal caller. He was responsible for three interceptions (his first two passes of the day, and his last), and nearly another turnover on a fumble overturned on replay, but in the second and third quarters, the sophomore quarterback was on fire, finishing 18 of 29 for 254 yards and four touchdowns—with another one on the ground. He was the reason Penn State was even in the Rose Bowl to begin with.
Brandon Bell Bell may have only been credited with one tackle on the day, but he made the key interception (USC’s only turnover) that set up first and goal for the Nittany Lions’ third straight offensive score to start the third quarter. The senior linebacker, one of only a handful of PSU players who won’t be back next season), was sorely missed after he left following that play with an apparent elbow/arm injury in a linebacking corps that was already down a man with Manny Bowen’s suspension.