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IMHO Tuesday special: Trojans rose to the occasion

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

The evaluation: Pardon me, Al Michaels, but do you believe in cardinal and gold miracles? I’ve seen a lot of USC Rose Bowl glorious wins and heartbreaking losses from the great 42-37 win over Wisconsin in the 63 Rose Bowl Game, the classic 18-17 win in the 1975 slugfest over Ohio State, and the tragic 41-38 loss to Texas for the BCS National Championship in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but let me tell you, folks, this ranks right up there with any of them. As they say, this was truly a game for the ages.

The evaluation – Part 2: If you really thought the Trojans could come back in the final quarter down by 15 points, raise your hand. Well, you’re in the minority and take ownerships of it. More than a few writers in the press box were typing the Trojans obituary before Sam Darnold did what Sam Darnold does and that plays with an assassin’s mentality, pro level coldness. He’s a gridiron killer. And the Trojans defense, whacked over and over by a Penn State offense that was nothing short of unstoppable, finally halted the Nittany Lions offensive barrage when it absolutely counted. And to top it off, junior placekicker Matt Boermeester became an instant USC legend with his steely-eyed 46-yard game-winning field goal with no time remaining, a comeback which the Trojans rallied back with 17-point fourth quarter.

The evaluation – Part 3: Incredible!  Those that were in the college football’s great cathedral in the Arroyo Seco will tell their grandchildren about this one for years to come. Simply put: USC 52, Penn State 49.

The offensive evaluation: You can’t say the Trojans offense didn’t produce. Yeah, they did blow some early touchdown opportunities, but in a game like this, when they were against the wall, they came through with 17 straight points to close out the game. Sam Darnold (453 yards and 5 TD passes) was again brilliant, and the nation got to see one of next season’s premier Heisman Trophy candidates. Running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones ll did just enough to keep the aggressive Penn State defense honest. Justin’s 24-yard non-scoring jaunt was the longest of a long afternoon. The Trojans receiving corps was outstanding and made some magnificent catches along the way. And how about sophomore wide receiver Deontay Burnett, who led the Trojans with 164 yards on 13 receptions and three TD receptions? What a game for young Deontay. The offensive line (photo above with guards Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao) had its work cut out for it the entire game, but with Darnold again as slithery as a proverbial snake, the Trojans quarterback was sacked just once. All in all, the Trojans offense was dynamic when it had to be at the most critical moments.  

The defensive evaluation: Let’s be honest, the defense was like a punch-drunk fighter for most of the game and gave up 465 yards, nothing to crow about. Super Penn State sophomore tailback Saquan Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive MVP, rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns. He was the real deal, folks. And PSU redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley was just as elusive as Sam Darnold. When your defense give up four consecutive scoring drives and allows 49 overall points, it certainly won’t rank you next to The Wild Bunch. However, when the game was on the line, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Men of Troy came through in the “Fight On” spirit, taking advantage of some real questionable passing calls by PSU head coach James Franklin late in the game. One of those questionable passing calls was taken advantage by Trojans senior safety Leon McQuay lll on the late fourth quarter PI that gave the Trojans one last gasp. Considering that star Trojans middle linebacker, sophomore Cameron Smith had been tossed in the third quarter for “targeting,” what a job senior backer Quinton Powell executed after having a rocky replacement moment, as PSU attacked him like ants at a picnic. All in all, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense came dangerously close to exceeding the 52 points scored by Alabama, although the Trojans offense contributed to some of that massive amount of points in Texas. However, in the end, it’s what you do when the game is on the line, and the Trojans defense put the offense in a position to win the game, and that’s all you can ask. Oh, and I guess Penn State now has an idea who this Stevie T. fella is at nose tackle for Troy. Stevie, the Rose Bowl Defensive MVP, played his heart out while being challenged by a great Penn State offensive line.

The special teams evaluation: Hey who cares that Matt Boermeester missed two previous field goal attempts during the game. Who’s counting? All that counts is that he hit the game winner and that’s all anybody will remember. For the most part, the Trojans special teams did their part in the victory and didn’t make any major blunders under intense pressure. On the game winning field goal, everybody along the offensive line did their thing. Snapper Zach Smith was flawless, holder Wyatt Schmidt was steady as rock, and Boermeester stayed true to his mechanics. As for coverage teams, they kept Saquan Barkley out of the end zone – not any easy thing to do. Again, when it counted, the special teams played a major part in the victory, a major theme throughout this unbelievable season.

The bottom line: This was one of USC’s all-time Rose Bowl wins and certainly one of the great wins in school history. This is a game that will be talked about for years and every Trojans fan will lay claim they were there when Matt Boermeester made RB history. And for the record, this was a very good Penn State team, the true Big Ten Champions, with no offense to Urban Meyer and his disappointing Ohio State Buckeyes.

The quote book…

Trojans head coach Clay Helton said: “Oh, what a terrific football game. We’re so worthy of a Rose Bowl Game. I think about this group of coaches and kids and what they’ve been able to accomplish over a season, and to put a stamp on it right here in The Granddaddy of Them All, it’s been a great week. Penn State, my hat is off to them. What a class organization. Coach Franklin, what he’s accomplished with his group over the entire season and then today, it was just two really, really good football teams playing at the highest level and competing until the absolute very end. These kids that I’ve had the honor to coach, they are the definition of fight on. Whether it was a season or this game, this game kind of just signified what our whole season has been, about never quit, keep competing, and good things will happen to you if you do.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton said – Part 2: On the defense playing so well when it needed to at the end, Helton said, “I think, one, I think when the time was right and we had to have a stop, we entrusted them to get it done. And what a big stop they made when we had to punt the ball with a little bit of 3 minutes and some change on the clock with three timeouts, just asking them to cowboy up one last time, and they did. They get a stop. We get in the two-minute drive. Offensively they’ve done it all year. They’ve been really good at situational football, and they go down and we score. Then Leon McQuay, what can you say? A senior leader, makes a huge play for us. One of the biggest plays of the season. And then credit to Matt, when the time was right, he came through in the biggest moments and that’s what great players do.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin said: “First of all, you’ve got to give USC credit, very good football team, very talented football team. I’m really, really proud of our guys in that locker room. There’s obviously a lot of raw emotion right now, there is a lot of hurt going on, and that’s natural. But these guys should have their chin held high, their chest out, because what we’ve been able to accomplish this year from the beginning to the end is really the story. I mean, tonight obviously was a small sample in what may have been the most exciting Rose Bowl Game ever.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin said – Part 2: “A couple things I would say about the game is we turned the ball over too much. You can’t turn the ball over against good opponents and have a chance to win. You lose the turnover ratio, you’re going to have a hard time being successful. We were really fortunate to be in the lead and in the game the way we were with the amount of turnovers we had. Then the other thing, you’ve got to give their O-line credit. We have really had a lot of success this year getting pressure to people’s quarterbacks and getting sacks. We had a hard time getting to them, and with their skill on the perimeter and with the talent that they have at the quarterback position, that’s going to cause you problems and challenges.”

Taking Penn State to the Matt: On his game-winning 46- field goal, Trojans junior field goal kicker Matt Boermeester said, “I wasn’t concerned about the distance. I knew I was going to get an opportunity to kick that field goal, so wherever it was at, I was kicking it. That’s what my thoughts were. My process is always the same. Stay true to my technique. It doesn’t really make a difference how far it is, the ball still has to go straight. So just keep the same mindset, same swing. Game was on the line, but you’ve got to keep true to your technique and trust it. It was a focus moment and I was trying not to do anything extra. Kick the same smooth ball and that’s it. I knew when I kicked it that it was going in.”

Taking Penn State to the Matt – Part 2: Afterward seeing his father, Peter Boermeester, who once kicked for rival UCLA, Matt Boermeester said, I already saw him. I think he’s a little bit in shock. He didn’t play in the Rose Bowl Game. He played at the Coliseum. He did play at UCLA.As far as seeing him right after the game, I could tell he had been crying, so I know how he’s feeling. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m just happy I got the opportunity to do so.”

Sam the Man: In talking about the Trojans fans and the game, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP, said, “Yeah, I mean, just to talk about the fans really quick. When we were over in Penn State’s area as an offense, we could barely get a snap off. Those guys were loud as heck, and our fans were too. But, yeah, I mean, that was a back-and-forth game, and you expect that with a team like Penn State. We came out victorious, but Penn State’s a really great team, and I just want to credit it to the seniors. What they’ve been through and to come out Rose Bowl Game champions in the end of it is really what means the most.”

The senior speaks: Trojans senior linebacker Michael Hutchings talked about the defensive stops at the end. Hutchings said, “I mean, those two stops kind of came down to everything that led up to this game, that led up to those two moments going back when you start in the winter in the spring, in the summer. And guys were playing for pride at that point. The score was close, but we knew we still had a chance, and there was a lot of time left. We just took it snap by snap and we were playing for pride. It became apparent each play guys were coming in clutch. The guys up front were making plays. I think just Coach Helton just saying give me one after every play, just give me one. All we tried to do was give them a chance, and that’s what we did.”

SP guru: Asked about the special teams performance on the winning field goal, Trojans special teams coach John Baxter said, “I told Matt (Boermeester), ‘Great job, buddy.’ I am really proud of him, but three people touched the ball in three seconds. Zack (Smith) made a good snap, Wyatt (Schmidt) made a good hold. What a way to win. It’s tough when you get down to it. What would we have said if he hadn’t made the kick? Having missed his previous two kicks, he stayed locked in and trusted his technique. The protection was great. Remember, they (the PSU defense) had blocked a kick at Ohio State.”

Swannie river: After the game, an obviously excited Lynn Swann, the Trojans first-year athletic director, said, “This tells you a lot about the football team we could have next year. We’ve got a coach (Clay Helton) that can convey a message and the kids believe in it. We’re still in the process of building. Coach Tee (Martin) had a great season and he was a first-year offensive coordinator. A couple of more recruiting seasons and we’ll be there.”

McQuay is the way: Reflecting upon the game and his key interception at the end, senior safety Leon McQuay said, “I was in Cover 2, I was back deep, the quarterback took a chance and threw it up, and I caught it. When I caught it and I was still inbounds, I said, ‘Let’s go and headed up the sideline!” When Matt was kicking, I was standing on the bench and was saying, ‘We are about to win it, we are about to win it, we are about to win it.’”

Viane speaks: On the surrealistic moment of Matt Boermeester’s winning field goal, Trojans junior offensive guard Viane Talamaivao said, “Words can’t even describe how I feel right now. Your life flashes before your eyes and you say this is it. This is what we have been training for and what we wanted. This was for all the marbles, baby. I was as nervous as hell. Seeing that ball sail into the uprights I was looking up, but I blacked out for a second. Once I saw it was going in, I took off running and I lost it. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

The pain of it all:
Penn State star tailback Saquan Barkley said, “The reason why this one hurts to me the most is, like Coach Franklin said, what these seniors have done for this program, and looking up to those guys. And that’s a big reason why I even came to this school. Coach Franklin and the seniors did a really good job of keeping this program alive, and I just wanted to send them off – we, not myself, the team, wanted to send them off on the right note. We fell short of that today. That’s why to me this loss hurts so much. Yeah.”

Banner moment: Said All-America right tackle Zack Banner on the Matt Boermeester’s winning attempt, “I wasn’t in doubt but I wasn’t confident either. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. I trusted whatever it was. Maybe it was the man above, but I was trusting the situation, the team, the training that we’ve had. We all did. It was awesome.”

The MVP: Trojans nose tackle Stevie T’uikolovatu, the Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game, said, “When the ball (the winning field goal) went through the uprights, it was crazy. I was super emotional. It made me not regret anything, it was all worth it. It was like a fairytale and to top it off with the MVP, it was pretty nice. The Penn State offensive line was very physical and the running back (Saquan Barkley) was what we thought he would be. It was hard to get him in the box and contain him. He has horse legs and doesn’t go down on the first hit.”

Marshall law: Trojans true sophomore corner Iman Marshall, who was playing through an ear infection and had one of three Trojans interceptions, said, “That’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of. It was a dream come true. I couldn’t look (at the field goal attempt). I prayed on it, God blessed us, so that’s all I can say.”

Florida backer: Senior linebacker Quinton Powell from Daytona Beach, Florida, had to replace starting middle linebacker Cameron Smith after Smith was ejected for “targeting” in the third quarter. Powell revealed, “I adjusted to coming in by just calming down. When I first went out there, there was a lot of emotion. In the third quarter, I was hyped up. I had to remember that I was out here for a reason. I just calmed down and started putting pressure on the quarterback. On the last defensive stand, we just kept moving. When Leon (McQuay) missed that first interception attempt, we said just go to the next play, a next play mentality. When we lined up for the field goal, I got down on one knee. I was very emotional. I was crying. I was, like, wow. It could happen. The next thing I knew that ball was going up through the uprights. I just dropped straight to my face.”

Deontay speaks: Trojans leading receiver Deontay Burnett said, “Seeing the ball go through the uprights was like a dream come true and become Rose Bowl champions. I practice against the best of the best in the country and come Saturday, it all comes natural. When we came back on the field after the (Leon McQuay) interception, we knew we had to ‘fight on’ because we’re USC Trojans, Trojans made.”

The big Wheeler: Trojans All-American offensive tackle Chad Wheeler recalled lining up for the game-winning field goal attempt. Wheeler said, “I knew that Boermeester was going to make it. I have confidence in all my teammates and he’s a great player. The Penn State defense was very physical, a great defense. They’re very schematic, very smart. I can’t give those guys enough credit.”

The confidence man: Trojans corner Adoree’ Jackson, who as forced to leave the game with a leg injury, had no doubt that Matt Boermeester would hit the victory field goal. Jackson said, “I ran before the ball was kicked, I knew it was going in. He had missed two kicks already and I knew that ain’t like him. He’s going to knock this one down. When that ball went up, I took off running, I mean hobbled, This is my most special game because it’s the Rose Bowl. Deontay (Burnett) and Sam (Darnold), they were ‘ballin.’ I think they should have been co-MVP. Deontay was doing his thing and Sammy was freaky out there.”

Porterville: As he sat on his locker room seat in a daze, Trojans sophomore defensive end Porter Gustin was asked about his reaction to the amazing ending. Gustin said, “Man, I knew he was going to make it. He missed a couple earlier in the game, but I knew he was going to come through.”

Porterville – Part 2: Asked how tough it was to stop Penn State, Porter Gustin said, “They were making plays all night. Their receivers were making big plays and the running back was making big plays as well, so it was tough for sure. They (the defense) kept at it and our offense kept us in the game to the end, and we were able to get big stops and big plays. Our mindset prior to (Leon McQuay) interception was this one is on us. We really wanted to end this with the defense making a stop after giving up so many big plays, so we were ready for it, and everybody wanted to be out there.”

Mr. Roger’s neighborhood: Senior receiver Darreus Rogers (113 yds./7 rec./1TD) had his own emotional take on the Matt Boermeester’s field goal. Rogers said, “When the ball went through the uprights, I was thinking we just won the Rose Bowl and everything I went through my senior year. It’s been a journey and it showed me I can face adversity and adjust to different systems and schemes. This is the greatest football game I’ve ever play in. Penn State was a great team.”

From the press box…

IMHO: Okay, this wasn’t a CFP semi-final game, but this one was better than those two semi-final stinkers played on New Year’s Eve. Ask the fans inside the Rose Bowl and watching on TV and I doubt you wouldn’t get big nod that this game was like a CFP playoff because it was the Big Ten Champions and the very best Pac-12 team at the end of the season. Sorry Washington fans, the results speak for themselves.

The comeback: The Trojans rally from 49-35 down in the fourth quarter for the win was the largest comeback in Rose Bowl history.

An RBG record: The Trojans and Penn State combined for new Rose Bowl Game record for the most combined points in a game with 101 points.

An RBG record – Part 2: Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold set a Rose Bowl record for total offense (474 yds.) and TD passes (5), tied the record for TDs responsible for, and second most passing yards in a RBG. Darnold’s 5 TD passes gave him multiple TD passes in nine straight games, the most for a Trojans QB since Matt Leinart did it 15 straight times between 2003-2004.

Never over till it’s over: Although there was still time to play, along the Penn State sidelines game Rose Bowl winning T-shirts were being opened to celebrate the apparent victory over the Trojans. In the immortal words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Sanchez in the house: In the Trojans locker room after the game was Mark Sanchez, the former Trojans MVP Rose Bowl quarterback that ripped the Penn State defense in 2009. With a very broad grin, Mark said, “This is pretty cool. This team has been through so much. Sam (Darnold) is a baller.”

Legends all: Celebrating the Trojans victory inside the Rose Bowl were immortals Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Curtis Conway, Willie McGinest, and Rodney Peete. Yep, the big guns were here to support the current Trojans.

Locker room presence: Nobody not in uniform was happier than former Trojans defensive legend Willie McGinest, who was in the Trojans locker room embracing huge offensive tackle Zach Banner. Who says offensive and defensive linebacker can’t get along?

Heck of a player: If you wonder just how great a running back Penn State’s Saquan Barkley is, consider he had 306 all-purpose yards in Monday’s game. To break it down, Barkley had 194 rushing, 55 yards receiving, and 57 yards in kickoff returns.

Officiating questions: More than a few media members in the press box and USC fans were not pleased with the officiating and some of the penalties called. Honestly, there were some flags that were downright bad and the replays confirmed it.

Tackling the issue: Leading tackler(s) for the Trojans against Penn State were nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu with 8 tackles stops followed by safety Leon McQuay lll with 7 tackles.

The post-game show…

The record maker: The Trojans, in its record 33rd Rose Bowl game, moves to 25-8 in the game and to 34-17 in the postseason overall.

The record maker – Part 2: The Trojans 52 points are its most ever in a Rose Bowl and the most in any bowl game since scoring 55 against Oklahoma (55-19) in the 2005 Orange Bowl (BCS National Championship Game). 

It’s official: Attendance for the 103rd Rose Bowl was announced as 95,128.

The flagmen: The game officials were from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Weather report: At kickoff, the weather was cloudy with a high of 55 degrees with the wind at 7 MPH.

Paying homage:
In honor of the late Joe McKnight, Trojans tailback changed from his No. 25 to McKnight’s USC playing days No. 4.

At the half: During halftime, the Trojans Marching Band performed a salute to 2016’s “Ladies of Pop,” featuring “Confident” by Demi Lovato, “This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris ft. Rhianna, “Into You” by Ariana Grande and “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya. A portion of the show was shown live nationwide on ESPN.

Constant entertainment: During timeouts, a couple of lady hosts did “live” on-field interviews with past players from both universities.

Shocking: There was pregame and post-game talk by a number of media members in the Rose Bowl press box regarding the departure of Lane Kiffin from Alabama as offensive coordinator, a week before the national title game against Clemson. Perhaps the most telling quote from Tide head coach Nick Saban was, “We made the decision because it was in the best interest of our players, our program and for Lane for him to assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” Saban told ESPN on Monday. “We mutually agreed that this was best for both programs.” In the best interest of “our players and our program.” That about says it all.

Shocking – Part 2: Of course, Lane Kiffin was replaced by Steve Sarkisian as Alabama OC. All we need now is Twilight Zone host Rod Sterling making a closing statement.

Shocking – Part 3: Another telling quote in the Lane Kiffin Alabama saga was, “Kiffin had been late to several events in the past week leading up to Alabama’s 24-7 CFP semifinal win against Washington in the Peach Bowl — including meetings and media day — leading some Alabama staff members to say they “were done with him,” sources told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. Cut to the chase, Nick Saban ran Kiffin off. Has anybody made more money from being fired or dismissed?

The Call-In Show numbers…

It takes points: The Trojans scored 52 points against Penn State. Prior to Rose Bowl game with the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were averaging 32.9 points per game.

Man the emergency hatches: The Trojans defense allowed 49 points to Penn State. Prior to Rose Bowl game with the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were allowing 22.2 points per game.

Down with that: The Trojans had 33 first downs while Penn State had 23 first downs.

Inflation: The Trojans had 575 yards in total offense against Penn State. Prior to Rose Bowl game with the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were averaging 468.9 yards in total offense per game.

Tough to defend: Against Penn State, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 465total offensive yards. Prior to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were allowing 359.0 yards per game.

Devalued: Against Penn State, the Trojans rushed for 122 yards. Prior to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were averaging 207.2 rushing yards per game.

Ground invasion: Against Penn State, the Trojans defense allowed 211 net yards rushing. Prior to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were allowing 133.7 net rushing yards per game.

Air raid: Against Penn State, the Trojans passed for 453 yards. Prior to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were averaging 261.7 passing yards per game.

Anti-aircraft: Against Penn State, the Trojans defense allowed 254 passing yards. Prior to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were allowing 225.3 passing yards per game.

The red zone: The Trojans were 5 of 5 in the red zone while Penn State was 3 of 3.

Equal sacks: The Trojans and Nittany Lions officially sacked each other’s quarterback once.

The flag is up: The Trojans were penalized 10 times for 85 yards against Penn State. Prior to Rose Bowl game with the Nittany Lions, the Trojans were averaging 65.7 ­yards per game in penalties compared to its opponents’ 43.5 ­­­­­­ yards per game. On Monday, Penn State was penalized five times for 65 yards.

The last word: The 2017 season is now complete and the Trojans finish the 2016 season 10-3. Considering the beginning and the end of the season, you could call the season a success. Next up is recruiting, followed by spring practice, and then the 2017 seasonal opener on Sept. 2 against Western Michigan, which finished 2016 with a 13-1 record, in the Coliseum. All in all, not a bad way to the end the current season and anticipate next season, which figures to see the Trojans pre-ranked in the top 5 in the country next season.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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