The No. 8-ranked and 11-1 Nittany Lions will face off against the also 11-1 and No. 5-ranked USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year's Day. This marks the fourth straight bowl game for this year’s senior class and Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler, Anthony Scirotto, and the rest will look to continue their undefeated bowl record of the past three seasons.
The general consensus is that USC is the clear favorite in this one, having demolished Big Ten foes in the previous two Rose Bowls and also having easily handled Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State earlier in the season.
In fact the Big Ten has not won the Rose Bowl since 2000. But three of those eight Rose Bowls did not even feature a Big Ten team due to the BCS national championship system.
But USC has not played Penn State this season. Nor have they played Penn State at all in recent history.
Penn State and USC do have two common opponents this season: Oregon State and Ohio State. Penn State defeated Oregon State at home by a score of 45-14 while USC lost on the road to Oregon State by a score of 27-21. Penn State defeated Ohio State on the road by a score of 13-6 while USC defeated Ohio State at home by a score of 35-3.
It’s difficult to compare directly since the two teams were never both home or both away for either of the two common opponents, but it seems to be that Penn State would have a slight edge since USC actually lost to a team that they handled very easily.
On the field, both of these teams have stellar defenses and have been forced to rely solely on their defenses at several times throughout the season. The highest point total allowed by USC was 23 (against Stanford) and for Penn State was 24 (against Illinois and Iowa). USC did record three shutouts on the season where Penn State was unable to bagel any of their opponents.
The biggest difference in this Rose Bowl game will be the offense of Penn State.
While the USC offense possesses an incredible amount of speed at the running back and tailback position, Penn State’s defense is based around stopping the run and stopping big pass plays. The Trojan offense will need the ability to sustain methodical drives to have success, something they have rarely shown this season.
On the other hand, the Penn State offense possesses a plethora a weapons at its disposal to use against a very athletic defense from USC.
Evan Royster is a solid down-hill runner that sees holes very well and has had success running in every game this season. Stephfon Green off the bench is lightning quick out of the backfield and has the ability to be a threat in the passing game as well as the running game.
Penn State’s three senior wide receivers (Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and Derrick Williams) all have big-play ability and all rank in the top four for Penn State’s history in receiving yards.
Williams also has big-play capability in the running, passing, and return games as well. Mickey Shuler is a solid route-runner and sure-handed tight end, and Andrew Quarless is a big-bodied tight end with a flare for the spectacular catch. The Penn State offensive line has been superb all season save a hiccup against Iowa.
And finally the Penn State MVP, quarterback Daryll Clark, is a smart and accurate passer that can make throws and make reads. Clark also is an incredible runner that can be a huge weapon in third down and short yardage situations.
To successfully defend the PSU offense a defense needs a solid game plan and even better execution. The superior athletes on the USC defense are good enough to stop most teams, but it won’t be enough to stop the spread HD offense from PSU. The Trojans are not disciplined enough and Penn State will be able to find the holes presented as long as they keep their play-calling smart.
Penn State thrives off of an intermediate passing game and an in-between the tackles running attack, but their offense also requires the threat of a deep pass to keep the defense on their heels. The times when the PSU offense is the most vulnerable is when their play-calling becomes too conservative.
Penn State has every capability in the world of shocking a biased America and scoring an emphatic victory against the Trojans.
There are also a couple of little things to keep in mind regarding the game.
USC is playing much closer to home than the Nittany Lions, but Penn State also travels extraordinarily well and should have a large contingent in Pasadena.
Penn State is also without the services of back-up quarterback Pat Devlin, who has quit the team and decided to transfer to Delaware. Devlin was an extremely capable performer and led Penn State to their game-winning drive in their victory over Ohio State. Without Devlin the quarterback position is very weak behind Darryl Clark.
So weak that PSU could turn to D-Will from the receiver position to fill the void in the case of a Clark injury. USC will know this and will make it a priority to get pressure on Clark and land some solid hits on him whenever he exposes itself. This could also make Penn State much more hesitant to use Clark in the running game.
As with most bowl games, each teams will be coming off a long break from their last regular season game. Sometimes this causes teams to come out flat or over-think their game plans. The recent success for both teams in recent bowl games is enough evidence that this shouldn’t be a problem for either side.
Lastly, under Pete Carroll USC has always been a big-game team that performs well under the spotlight. However, USC is likely to have little respect for PSU and could be overconfident heading into the game. That overconfidence has been their biggest enemy in the past couple of seasons, and Penn State is certainly a team capable of taking advantage of that.
This game presents a great opportunity for the PSU team to see how they stack up against a team as much (or more) talent as any team in the country. Win or lose, the Nittany Lions should enjoy this one as a reward for their performance throughout the season. I think PSU feels like they have more to prove and comes out on top in a surprisingly large margin by a score of 37-21.