USC-Penn State: A game to remember

PASADENA, CA-Well, that was a lot of fun. Thank goodness for the USC Trojans and the Penn State Nittany Lions. USC and Penn State didn’t just play a game inside the 103rd running of the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. Outside of the national championship showdown between Alabama and Clemson, the Trojans and the Nittany Lions made the Rose Bowl “The Game.”

After the first quarter, rumblings were that “The Game” was beginning to have the feel of Stanford’s demolishing of Iowa in the 2016 Rose Bowl Game when USC had taken a 13-0 lead. Penn State put the brakes on that nonsense. As it was, you had a contest featured with enough momentum highs and lows to fill up several more bowl games.

Both teams faced double-digit deficits. Both teams engaged in improbable comebacks just when you thought one team was down and out for the count. The playmakers from both teams came through like the stars they are. One team put up more points (28) in one quarter than any other team in the history of the Rose Bowl Game. Throw in a walk-off, game-winning field goal, and you have yourself an all-time classic.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (26) rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns against USC in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on Monday, Jan. 1, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Certainly, this was a game for the ages. This contest had everything that make college football the worthwhile spectacle it has become. USC’s last-second, pulsating 52-49 win against a game Penn State, ranks right up there in the thrill department of the Texas-Trojans national title game in 2006.

In the magnitude category, it is a little short behind that epic win by Vince Young and his Longhorns over the Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush Trojans. That’s because USC was a two-time national champion, looking to make it three in a row before Vin-Sanity rained on Trojans’ parade.

That is not to take away the enormous show both USC and Penn Sate exhibited. College football is better for it. It wasn’t that long ago that both football programs were on the outs of being in the top tier of the college football universe. Both USC and Penn State has seen some dark days the past few years with coaching turnover, NCAA meted sanctions and swirling controversies.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold (14) had a big day against Penn State in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, passing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans’ 52-49 win on Monday, Jan. 1, 2017. Photo by Dennis . Freeman/

What happened on Jan. 1, 2017 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, kindly kicked those negative vibes to the curb for some indefinite rest as the Trojans and Nittany Lions emphatically put the pride back in their respective alums with their colossal tug-o-war. Yes, USC came out on top of this Pac-12 ConferenceBig Ten Conference showdown, but both teams can truly say they won.

When you consider all of the headache and heartache and tears and frustration USC and Penn State has had to overcome to being back in the college football loop of relevancy, it was a good day for both teams. The sun managed to break through even though much of the game was played under cloudy skies.

Tradition, alumni, school pride and success has been the microscopic backdrop of these two schools. And what we saw from the Rose Bowl was two teams, two schools, inwardly fighting for a stake in the “we matter” department. What we saw in USC and Penn State is what is right about collegiate athletics.

Some people may think it was just another football game. For those associated with USC and Penn State, playing in the Rose Bowl, “The Granddaddy of Them All, probably meant a whole lot more than just a football game.

USC running back Justin Davis (22) looks for room to run against Penn State in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on Monday, Jan. 1, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Sure, it was great to see the program that made Linebacker U. a national calling card out there on the football field. And who doesn’t enjoy listening to the Nittany Lions’ contagious shout out, “We are…Penn State” being bellowed out.

But to do what Penn State coach James Franklin has done with this program, from both a public relations standpoint and generating stability by getting players to buy into what he and the school can offer to student-athletes, is nothing short of remarkable.

That ugly stain that used to hover over the program is slowly being scratched out thanks to Franklin. His team’s performance against USC probably will go a long way to further distancing the Nittany Lions from wounds of their past. The same can be said about USC coach Clay Helton.

USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) finds an opening in the Penn State defense. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Man, what a year it has been for Helton, who hit a benchmark with the team’s Rose Bowl Game appearance in his first full season as head coach. The possibility of even sniffing the Rose Bowl seemed light years away for Helton and his players when the bottom appeared to have fallen out when they dropped to 1-3 after their first four games of the season.

His job security was even questioned by some in the media. Well, after the Trojans’ unforeseen turnaround, it’s safe to say that Helton does not have to worry about that anymore. Beating the No. 5 team in the county in the Rose Bowl don’t hurt.

Helton’s Trojans won the Rose Bowl Game because quarterback Sam Darnold decided to play with the leadership of a senior rather than being the redshirt freshman that he is. The Trojans won this game by blanking Penn State in the fourth quarter after surrendering 28 points to the Nittany Lions in the third period.

They won despite losing Adoree’ Jackson to a leg injury late in the game. They fought. So did the Nittany Lions. Penn State didn’t give up after being down 13-0. There was no surrender from Penn State even though USC torched their defense for 575 yards in total offense. Oh, it was on between these two teams. Neither side wanted to blink first.

Because of that, a nationally-televised audience got a first-hand look at two esteemed universities bringing their long-time excellence to the football field.

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