Second-Half Magic Runs Out for Penn State as Nittany Lions Blow 14-point Lead in Rose Bowl Loss

Chris Godwin Penn State
PASADENA, Calif. (EYT) – Penn State was a second-half team again until it wasn’t.

(Photo of Chris Godwin. Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics)

The Nittany Lions scored 28 third-quarter points to grab a 49-35 lead over Southern California in the 103rd playing of the Rose Bowl Monday before giving up 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points including 10 in the final 90 seconds to lose 52-49 when Matt Boermeester hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Boermeester was in position to win the game because of an interception three plays earlier by USC’s Leon McQuay III that was returned 32 yards to the Penn State 33-yard line with 27 seconds left. A short run followed by a spike set up the game-winning kick by Boermeester, who had been 2 of 4 on field goals in the game up to that point.

McQuay III’s late pick ended a disaster on offense for Penn State in the fourth quarter.

After scoring on seven consecutive possessions from the second quarter through the end of the third quarter, Penn State went conservative in the fourth quarter up 14 and managed just 14 yards of offense in the fourth quarter while running just 14 offensive plays in the quarter.

That allowed USC and freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns, to get back in the game.

Darnold led the Trojans on drives of 83 and 80 yards in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

His 27-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, which was orginally ruled incomplete but was overturned on replay, set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II with 8:15 to go to get USC within seven, 49-42.

Penn State had a chance to run the clock out on its next drive, but on third-and-4 from its own 42-yard line with 2:16 to play. But a Saquon Barkley run went for negative seven yards forcing Penn State to punt.

It then took Darnold only three plays to drive USC the 80 yards to tie the game, although he was aided by back-to-back pass interference calls on the Nittany Lions.

The drive ended with a 27-yard scoring pass to Deontay Burnett with 1:20 to play.

The score seemed to give Penn State too much time, but McSorley, who was either great or bad in the game – he threw four touchdowns but three interceptions while also almost losing a fumble – it was ruled USC ball before replay gave it back to Penn State earlier in the fourth quarter – was bad at the wrong time.

After a first-down run by Barkley gained a yard, McSorley was nearly intercepted on a second-down heave down the field before being picked off on third down setting up the game-winning score.

McSorley’s first two passes of the game were also intercepted but only led to seven USC points after the Trojans missed an early field goal.

But again, a slow start didn’t help Penn State with the Nittany Lions falling behind by scores of 13-0, 20-7 and 27-14 before getting within six, 27-21, at halftime on an 11-yard Mike Gesicki touchdown pass from McSorley with 54 seconds left in the half.

The Nittany Lions then took their first lead on their first offensive play of the third quarter when Barkley took a run, bounced it outside then cut across the field for a 79-yard touchdown run that had shades of Ki-Jana Carter’s 80-yard run at the start of the 1995 Rose Bowl game.

Penn State scored on its next two offensive plays as well.

First, McSorley hit Chris Godwin with a 72-yard pass that was tipped but caught by Godwin to make it 35-27, and then, after a Brandon Bell interception that Bell returned to the 3-yard line, McSorley ran in for the score and a 42-27 lead.

But the interception was costly, as Bell left with an arm injury and never returned leaving Penn State down two starting linebackers – Bell and the suspended Manny Bowen.

USC took advantage of that cutting the lead to seven, 35-28, when Darnold hit JuJu Smith with a 13-yard scoring pass and then hit Taylor McNamara on the two-point conversion out of a trick formation with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.

Penn State answered right back with a 7-yard McSorley to Barkley scoring pass that put the lead back to 14.

Barkley had a huge game but the final loss on the third-and-4 play cost him a 200-yard run. He ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and added five catches for 55 yards and the score.

McSorley was 18 of 29 passing for 254 yards and the four scores but three picks. Godwin caught nine passes for 187 yards and two scores.

Burnett caught 13 passes for 164 yards and three scores for USC.

USC finishes the season 10-3, while Penn State went 11-3.

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