PASADENA, Calif. — Trace McSorley picked a bad time to start throwing interceptions.
The Penn State quarterback had been nearly flawless in protecting the ball during a nine-game winning streak, but three interceptions in the Rose Bowl, including a pick with 27 seconds remaining that USC safety Leon McQuay returned to the Nittany Lions’ 33-yard line, proved to be the difference in a wild 103rd Rose Bowl.
Despite harnessing its vaunted second-half magic for touchdowns from Saquan Barkley, Chris Godwin and McSorley on the first three offensive plays of the second half, Matt Boermeester kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired and No. 9 USC rallied to hand No. 5 Penn State a crushing 52-49 defeat in the Rose Bowl on Monday.
McSorley threw consecutive hanging deep balls that McQuay was able to break on — the senior able to collect the second and return it 32 yards — wasting a magnificent charge from Penn State (11-3) behind 193 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Barkley and nine receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns from Godwin.
Barkley and Godwin accounted for 381 of Penn State’s 465 yards.
It looked as if USC (10-3) would pick up where it left off when these two teams met in 2009 by bombarding the Penn State secondary and cruising to an easy win. McSorley was picked off on Penn State’s first play from scrimmage after Miles Sanders misjudged the opening kickoff and was lucky to fall on it at the 3-yard line, and threw another interception following a missed USC field goal, leading to an early Trojan touchdown.
Sam Darnold threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, as USC opened up double-digit leads at 13-0, 20-7 and 27-14. But a third-down face mask penalty on defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu while tackling McSorley kept a Nittany Lion drive alive, and a twisting 11-yard touchdown catch by Mike Gesicki sent Penn State into the locker room down just 27-21.
After propelling itself to a Big Ten title largely on the strength of its adjustments in the second half, Penn State took that advantage to the extreme with Barkley’s 79-yard touchdown run where he juked four USC defenders and broke two tackles while darting across the field, Godwin’s juggling 72-yard touchdown reception, and McSorley’s 3-yard touchdown run after Brandon Bell intercepted Darnold to take a 42-27 lead.
USC responded with a 25-7 run, tying the game at 49-49 on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to Burnett with 1:20 left.
Defense? What Defense
The highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history was a thoroughly entertaining and utterly unpredictable affair, serving as the perfect antidote to two blowouts in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The two teams combined for 1,040 yards, with McSorley throwing for 254 yards and four touchdowns and his USC counterpart Darnold 453 yards and five touchdowns.
Penn State and USC had each allowed less than 20 points per game during winning streaks of nine and eight games, respectively, to end the season.
Glue on Godwin’s Gloves
USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson dominated the conversation during the week leading up to the game, but Godwin was every bit the equal of the unanimous All-American, if not better. It would be hard to rank the array of impressive receptions Godwin made, but the standout was likely a grab on the final drive of the first half where the junior reached back with his left hand to catch and tuck the ball away on third down to move the chains.