Penn State finished out its season on a high note as it took care of business against Utah in the Rose Bowl, beating the Pac-12 champions 35-21 in Pasadena.
It was a slow start for both sides as the teams traded punts to open the contest. Penn State was able to capitalize on the first big swing of the game, turning a Kalen King interception into an 11-play, 82-yard drive that ended with Nicholas Singleton finding the end zone on a 5-yard run to give Penn State a 7-0.
The teams traded scores on the next three drives, with the Penn State defense just not being able to get off the field against a feisty Utah offense that seemingly always made a play to move the chain. Cam Rising, despite the not-so-impressive stat line, proved to be an unbelievably aggravating — but effective — quarterback for the Utes.
The second half, was all Penn State though, and in particular: Sean Clifford. The sixth-year senior might have played the best game of his career, finishing the game 16-of-21 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. More than anything though, it was Clifford’s command of the game that was pivotal. He was calm. He was poised. He never let the game get too big for him.
Beyond Clifford, it was the big plays that swung the second half. Nicholas Singleton ran for an 87-yard touchdown to put Penn State up 21-14, and then Clifford found KeAndre Lambert-Smith for an 88-yard touchdown reception.
KE’ANDRE LAMBERT-SMITH 88 YARD TOUCHDOWN FROM SEAN CLIFFORD pic.twitter.com/04SVUZAZH5— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthewCFB) January 3, 2023
It was a statement victory for a Penn State program that needed one after the downs of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Heading into this year, the Nittany Lions were 11-11 over their last 22 games. Now standing 11-2 and fresh off of a Rose Bowl victory over the Pac-12 champions, it’s safe to say the program is in a much better place than it was the last two years.
And for Sean Clifford, folks, hats off. Whether you loved him or not, he saved his best for last. He ends his Penn State career a Rose Bowl champion, and got a standing ovation in Pasadena. The ride might have been bumpy, but what a sweet, satisfying ending for No. 14.