The 2017 Rose Bowl was one of the most entertaining college football games you will ever see.
Penn State and USC came in as the two hottest teams in the country and delivered an instant classic Monday night in Pasadena. The Nittany Lions trailed by 13 multiple times in the first half but scored touchdowns on seven straight drives in the second and third quarters, only for the Trojans to score 17 unanswered in the fourth quarter and kick a walk-off field goal to send the Lions to a 52-49 defeat.
The teams combined for 101 points and 1,040 total yards in a game that featured back-and-forth offensive action so rapid and so prolific that the scoring summary was a mile long.
The game featured numerous crazy plays including highlight-reel circus catches, two 70-plus-yard touchdown plays and four interceptions, including the one hauled in by USC defensive back Leon McQuay with 38 seconds left in a 49-all game that set up the Trojans' game-winning 46-yard field goal.
The night looked grim for the start for Penn State, with quarterback Trace McSorley throwing two interceptions on his first two passes of the game. USC turned the second into a touchdown and led 17-0 after one quarter, a period in which the Lions amassed just 38 yards of offense.
But the second quarter broke out into the shootout we all expected between these two, which entered the game with a combined 17 straight wins and explosive offensive outputs in many of those games.
A Penn State drive that featured four plays of more than 10 yards finished with a Saquon Barkley touchdown run from 24 yards out. But USC answered right back when the Lions did a strange kickoff that set the Trojans up at their own 40-yard line. USC quarterback Sam Darnold threw his second touchdown pass of the night to put his team back up 13. McSorley hit big-play receiver Chris Godwin for a 29-yard gain on the ensuing drive two plays before finding him in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Darnold followed with another touchdown pass, only for McSorley to hit Mike Gesicki on the ensuing drive for a score.
Before USC missed a field goal at the halftime buzzer, five straight second-quarter drives ended in touchdowns.
USC's 27-21 halftime lead flipped on its head in a monstrous third quarter for Penn State that opened with touchdowns on the offense's first three plays of the half. Barkley busted off a beautiful 79-yard touchdown run on the Lions' first play of the third quarter. To open the next drive, McSorley bombed a pass to Godwin, who made a juggling circus catch off a tip by the defensive back for a 72-yard touchdown. And after Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell came down with a tipped ball for an interception, McSorley waltzed in from three yards out for a touchdown.
And all that occurred in the first five minutes of the second half. In 20 minutes of football following the end of the first quarter, Penn State flipped a 13-0 deficit into a 42-27 lead.
But the madness continued. Darnold threw yet another touchdown pass in response, only for Barkley to catch a touchdown pass from McSorley on the ensuing drive to make it seven straight touchdown drives for the Lions.
The fourth quarter, however, belonged exclusively to the Trojans. A Ronald Jones touchdown run with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the game brought USC within a touchdown of Penn State. Three straight drives ended in punts, and Darnold led a remarkable game-tying drive. After back-to-back first-down throws, Penn State was flagged for pass interference on back-to-back plays. Darnold lasered a 27-yard touchdown pass for the score, tying the game at 49 with 90 seconds remaining.
McSorley & Co. couldn't do anything on the ensuing drive, with McSorley lofting a pass that should've been intercepted only to follow it with another bad pass that was intercepted and returned all the way back to Penn State's 33-yard line. USC booted a 46-yard field goal for the walk-off winner, bringing a thrilling conclusion to a thrilling game.
While the game was remarkable, it can't help but be noticed that Penn State coughed this one away. After 28 points in the third quarter, the Lions' offense was shut down in the fourth, running just 14 plays for 14 yards in the final frame. Penn State weathered McSorley's first-quarter interceptions but lost the game on his final pick. McSorley threw just five interceptions during the Lions' nine-game winning streak before throwing three in this game.
Still, McSorley put up some gaudy numbers, throwing for 254 yards and four touchdowns. Barkley, though, was a bigger offensive star with a jaw-dropping 194-yard, two-touchdown day on the ground plus 55 yards and a touchdown through the air. Godwin caught nine passes for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Darnold, the redshirt freshman, shone for USC, throwing for 453 yards and five touchdowns.
The highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever should not escape the minds of fans anytime soon, but the Big Ten will want to forget this bowl season. Penn State's loss made it a sorry 3-7 showing for the conference in the postseason after being the clear-cut top league during the regular season. Ohio State's blowout loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl looms largest, though Penn State and Michigan being on the wrong end of marquee-bowl thrillers doesn't help.
It still goes down as a sensational season for the Lions, who finished at 11-3 and still own that Big Ten championship. The out-of-nowhere feeling of this campaign certainly won't be around next season, when McSorley, Barkley and a fleet of other players will return for James Franklin. This showing in the Rose Bowl didn't equal a win Monday, but it ought to have fans and observers excited to see what Penn State can do next fall.