Utah can’t shake Rose Bowl blues

PASADENA (News4usonline) – For the second year in a row, the Utah Utes had their Rose Bowl dreams crushed. On the first day of 2022, Utah engaged Ohio State in a high-scoring affair with the Buckeyes eventually prevailing with a 48-45 win.

For the second straight year, Utah was denied a Rose Bowl Game win. This time the adversary was Penn State. The Nittany Lions outscored Utah 21-7 in the second half to secure a 35-21 Rose Bowl Game win. Of course, Utah players, like wide receiver Devaughn Vele, who played in the Rose Bowl Game against Ohio State, were disappointed that the Utes came up short again. 

Utah running back Mohamoud Diabate (3) runs for tough yards against the Penn State defense during the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2, 2023. Photo by Melinda Meijer for News4usonline

“Going back-to-back Rose Bowls, not a lot of people say they can do that, but at the same time, we wish we would have executed better to come out as Rose Bowl champions,” said Vele, who caught five passes for 100 yards against Penn State. 

“It doesn’t matter how many times you come to the Rose Bowl, it’s better when you win one, so we could come 100 times. If we don’t win one, it doesn’t really mean that much.”

Utah linebacker Karene Reid echoed Vele’s thoughts on the team coming away winless again in the Rose Bowl Game.

“I mean, we’re obviously grateful to have made it to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row,” Reid said. “Like Coach Whitt said, there’s a lot of positives from the season and the season before. But it’s definitely disappointing the way it ended this year.”

This year was supposed to be different for the Utes. Utah claimed the Pac-12 Conference crown for the second year in a row after they slammed the door on the USC Trojans in the conference title game.

The Utes came into the Rose Bowl Game ranked No. 8. They won all season with an opportunistic offense and a physical defense. These attributes are what allowed them to rally from a 17-point hole against USC to carry them to a 47-24 blowout win over the Trojans in the Pac-12 title game.

Unfortunately, Utah ran into a team that was just as physical, if not more, than they are. Penn State, a team that finished third in the Big Ten Conference behind mega powers Michigan and Ohio State, played big when the moments counted on the big stage.

Despite the Utes gaining more first downs, the Nittany Lions would counter with more big plays and use a defense that eventually would lift them to victory, thus sealing the fate of the Utes. It didn’t help the Utes when they lost their star quarterback Cameron Rising in the third quarter. That would be when Penn State opened up a little breathing room from the Utes.

Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele (17) makes the spectacular catch in between Penn State defenders Zakee Wheatley (6) and Marquis Wilson (8) during the 2023 Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2, 2023. Photo by Melinda Meijer for News4usonline

An 87-yard touchdown run by Nicholas Singleton in the third period created some separation between the two teams, which went into halftime all knotted up at 14-14. An 88-yard touchdown pass from Sean Clifford to KeAndre Lambert-Smith early in the fourth quarter put the writing on the wall in the Nittany Lions’ two-touchdown win.

“Disappointing loss. Credit Penn State,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said after the game. “They’re a complete football team, played well. Really made very few mistakes. When you look at us and our issues in this game, didn’t throw the ball efficiently enough, not nearly as efficiently as we’ve been throwing it all season long.   “Defense got big played. That’s evidenced by over 400 yards of offense by Penn State. Only 15 first downs, that’s not a lot of first downs which means they’re getting some big-chunk-yardage plays, which definitely led to our demise.”

Those plays by Singleton and Lambert-Smith were backbreakers for Utah. Lambert-Smith’s long touchdown sealed the win for Penn State.

“Penn State, give them credit,” Whittingham said. “They played well. Quarterback was exceptional. High completion percentage, threw for a bunch of yards, ran the ball efficiently enough. We did a decent job running the ball, as well, but like I said, our lack of production throwing the football was really off the pace tonight. Our guys played hard, though. Proud of them. We just have to keep coming back to this game until we get it right.”

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