To say that Penn State did not have a fantastic start to the 2017 Rose Bowl would be an understatement. Miles Sanders misread the opening kickoff, and had to dive on the ball at the three yard line. On the very next play, a miscommunication between Trace McSorley and DeAndre Thompkins led to a USC interception. On the next series, a tipped ball led to another interception, putting the Trojans up 7-0. The shell shock seemed to persist, as USC built a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Not long into the second, however, McSorley and Co. began to figure things out. A long, sustained drive (would you believe that those actually happened sometimes last year?) was capped by a 24-yard Saquon Barkley touchdown run. Penn State closed the gap to 13-7, sparking a back-and-forth second quarter. The two teams would trade touchdowns for the remainder of the half, with the Trojans taking a 27-21 lead into halftime.
Once again, Penn State would make some of its halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball. After a decent return of the kickoff by USC to their 35-yard-line, the Lions would force the first three-and-out for the Trojans in the game, and in fact their first punt of the game. John Reid fair caught the ball at the 21-yard line, setting up the Lion’s first offensive possession of the second half. Then came the play.
Penn State lined up in shotgun, with DeAndre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton to the right, Mike Gesicki in the left slot, and Chris Godwin wide left. Immediately after the snap, McSorley handed off to Barkley while left tackle Ryan Bates pulled to the right side of the line, looking to push linebacker Uchenna Nwosu to the outside and create a gap on the right side of the offensive line. Unfortunately Nwosu had a solid lane to the inside, and nearly tackled Barkley in the backfield. As he was wont to do last year, Barkley juked the tackle and bounced the ball to the outside.
Defensive back Marvell Tell crashed toward a stationary running back, for what should have been an easy tackle - unfortunately for him, that running back is a warlock, and danced away from him, leaving Tell diving for nothing but air. Further to the outside, defensive back Ajene Harris sought to contain Barkley, but a nifty side step saw Saquon shoot inside past Harris. DeAndre Thompkins held a nice block on defensive back Adoree’ Jackson, while DaeSean Hamilton got a piece of linebacker Cameron Smith, slowing his pursuit, releasing Barkley down the right sideline.
Defensive back Jack Jones came sprinting over, and Barkley immediately made Jones his next victim, as a stutter step to the inside put the would-be tackler right on his back side. Next up was defensive back Chris Hawkins, who was also left grasping at nothing as Saquon took another side step to knife between Hawkins and linebacker Smith, who had continued the chase downfield (bless his heart). Defensive end Porter Gustin made a diving lunge, but Barkley’s tree trunk legs easily shed the tackle attempt, and suddenly Saquon was clear on the left side of the field.
Downfield, Chris Godwin provided some extra blocking, first cutting off Ajene Harris (‘member him?), and then impeding Adoree’ Jackson as Barkley crossed the goal line. A full 15 seconds elapsed from the time the ball was snapped to the time the touchdown was scored, a play that would put Penn State up 28-27 over the Trojans. All told, the Nittany Lions would score touchdowns on four consecutive offensive plays, going from down 27-14 to up 42-27 in the middle of the third quarter.
The result of the Rose Bowl may not have been what the Nittany Lion faithful hoped for, but plays like this one showed that Penn State was back on the national stage - and looks to stay there for the foreseeable future. Check out the video below: