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O/NSO: 2017 Rose Bowl edition – USC vs Penn State

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: The No. 9 USC Trojans (9-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12 South) and the No. 5 and Big Ten Champion Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2 overall, 8-1 Big Ten East) will collide Monday afternoon in the “Granddaddy of Them All”, the 103rd Rose Bowl Game, in Pasadena, Calif. Kickoff, before a sold-out stadium (91,136) and televised live nationally on ESPN, is scheduled for 2:10 PT/5:10 ET.

The Not So Obvious: And now with much of the Rose Bowl fun stuff like Tuesday’s trip to the Disneyland Resort, Wednesday night’s trek to a comedy club, and Thursday night’s Lawry’s Beef Bowl prime rib-a-thon (above photo with “Chef” Adoree’ Jackson) in the extracurricular rearview mirror, it’s time to get serious – football serious. Aside from playing in the College Football Playoff semi-finals, this Rose Bowl Game is as good as it gets, and the matchup of two storied programs, USC and Penn State, could equal the hype. The way their regular seasons ended and with the ferocity of their play, it could be argued that either team, the Trojans or the Nittany Lions, could make a case for being the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff semi-finals. The Men of Troy are riding an eight-game winning streak, having beaten CFP No. 4 Washington while Penn State is on a nine-game winning streak, crowned Big Ten Champions, and having earlier beaten CFP No. 3 Ohio State.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 6 ½ -point favorite to defeat Penn State in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game.

The Not So Obvious: This will be the 10th meeting ever between the Trojans and Penn State (USC leads the series, 5-4), and it will be just the third time the Trojans and Nittany Lions have met in Pasadena. It figures that Penn State fans haven’t forgotten the thumbing they took against the Trojans in the 2009 Rose Bowl Game, a 35-24 shellacking that was not as close as the score indicated. For the record, the first time these two universities met in a Rose Bowl was 1923, a game which featured Trojans head coach Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson and Penn State head coach Hugo Bezdek, and the Cardinal and Gold prevailed 14-3. Overall, the Trojans record in the Rose Bowl is 24-9, the most wins in Rose Bowl history. The Trojans have also won 11 of its past 13 Rose Bowl appearances.

The Obvious: Monday’s Rose Bowl Game featuring the Trojans and Penn State will be nationally televised live on ESPN (2:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters for Monday’s kickoff will be Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analysis), and Samantha Ponder and Tom Rinaldi (sidelines). FYI, ESPN’s popular College GameDay pre-game show will be on location at the Rose Bowl Monday morning.

The Obvious: Monday’s Trojans radio broadcast of the Rose Bowl will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 2:00 p.m. (PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans ESPNLA 710 Rose Bowl pregame (10:00 a.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show on Monday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Penn State broadcast can be heard on flagship station WOWK (1450 AM) with Steve Jones (play-by-play) and Jack Ham (analyst).

The Rose Bowl is also being broadcast nationally on ESPN radio with Dave Pasch (play-by- play), Greg McElroy (analyst), and Tom Luginbill (sidelines). The Rose Bowl will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 80) and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Monday’s Rose Bowl weather in Pasadena calls for cloudy with a high of 53 degrees, low of 40 degrees (sunset at 4:55 p.m. PT), 10 percent precipitation, and 75 percent humidity.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather forecast is whether the Trojans, after a long layoff, can continue to dominate, especially against a physical team like Penn State. Outside of Alabama, Penn State might be the most physical team the Trojans will play.

Offensively, the Trojans will be led by Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Sam Darnold (26 TD passes, a USC frosh record). The Penn State defense and the bright lights of the Rose Bowl will be a real test for young Darnold, who has risen to the occasion without hesitation. We’ll find out whether the Penn State defense can contain the Trojans slippery quarterback and whether the Nittany Lions defenders can actually control the USC offensive line, which should be interesting considering the Trojans O-line is anchored by two All-Americans and first-team All-Pac-12 offensive tackles in senior Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. The Trojans offensive skill players like tailbacks Ronald Jones ll (second-team All-Pac-12) and the determined Justin Davis and standout wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC’s 5th all-time career receiver) and Darreus Rogers (in USC’s top 20 in receptions) should all give the Nittany Lions all they can handle. One area of concern could be who is the Trojans backup center if starter Nico Falah should go down? Backup Khaliel Rodgers is coming off concussion protocol, so the next option could be offensive guard Chris Brown. As for the Penn State defense, they have their studs like safety Marcus Allen (101 tackles), linebacker Brandon Bell (87 tackles, 7.5 for loss), and defensive end Garrett Sickels (12.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks). They pride themselves on some very “exotic” blitzes and schemes.

Defensively, we’ll find out whether Trojans respected defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s own schemes and blitzes can stop a Penn State offense that put points on the board by being both physical and dominant skill-wise. The Nittany Lions have big wide receivers like Chris Godwin (50 receptions, 9 TDs) and tight ends like Mike Gesicki (47 catches), and they’ll have a height advantage over the shorter Trojan corners. Trojans defenders like Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, corner Adoree’ Jackson (consensus All-American), linebackers Cameron Smith, Michael Hutchings, and Porter Gustin, and down linemen Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Rasheem Green will be challenged by Penn State’s own potent backfield, which consists of All-Big Ten performers in quarterback Trace McSorley and tailback Saquan Barkley (1302 yds., 16 TDs, 23 catches), the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The Penn State offensive line is a physical, formidable unit, so we’ll see whether the Trojans defense has seen a backfield attack that resembles their own. The Trojans chances of success will be whether they can contain McSorley in the pocket and limit the home run threat of Barkley, who is extremely dangerous running or catching the pigskin.

Looking at specials teams, the Trojans have a solid kicker in junior lefty Matt Boermeester (FG 15-20-long 49 yds./PAT 48-49/ TB 40) and a precision punter in sophomore Chris Tilbey (37.8 avg. – long 53 yds.). As for Penn State, they rely on All-Big Ten first-team senior placekicker Tyler Davis (FG 22-24 – long 40 yds./PAT 55-55), senior punter Blake Gillikin (42.1 avg. – long 69 yds.), and kickoffs with sophomore Joey Julius (TB 45). We see whether Trojans special teams coach John Baxter will again be a coaching factor when it comes to all facets of the kicking game.

The bottom line to Monday’s Rose Bowl is whether the Trojans can physically match Penn State and whether the Nittany Lions can handle the Trojans skill players on both side of the ball.

The Obvious: Clay Helton is in his first season as head coach of the USC Trojans and is considered a low-key personality in person but can be fiery in the locker room.

The Not So Obvious: Penn State coach James Franklin, the 2016 Big Ten Coach of the Year and in his third season as the Nittany Lions’ head coach, is highly emotional – both on and off the field. Asked to compare the Trojans to a similar Big Ten team the Nittany Lions have played, Franklin said, “The Ohio States, the Michigans and those teams of the world, the Michigan States, we’ve faced a lot of very talented teams in our conference, especially on our side (BTE) of the conference. Obviously, USC is a very, very talented team and always has been. It’s going to be a challenge for our guys. I would say the Ohio States of the world are similar in terms of talent; the schemes are probably a little bit different, especially offensively. Ohio State reminds me most of USC because they both have recruited extremely well.”

The Obvious: The 2016 Trojans offense is averaging 32.9 points per game while the Penn State defense is allowing 23.4 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2016 Penn State offense is averaging 36.7 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 22.2 points per game.

The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans first-year defensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: As it pertains to the Penn State offense, Pendergast said, “We’re excited about the challenge of playing a very good Penn State team. It’s going to be a big challenge for us and we’re excited about it. They’re a lot different than some of the teams we’ve played, and they use their personnel differently. They have a very talented tight end, the quarterback is really good, running the ball and throwing the ball inside, and keeps a lot of plays alive getting out of the pocket. They are very physical, and their receivers get a lot of shots down field. Every team is going to take a few shots, but they’re unique because on different parts of the field they’ll take shot, whether they’re backed up or in the plus part of the field than some of the teams we’ve played.”

The Obvious: Tee Martin is the Trojans first-year offensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: Assessing the Penn State defense, Martin said, “They have a really strong defensive front, a very active group. They have a lot of movement and guys that play hard. They have good size and are a physical bunch. We’re going to have a good game of blocking and pass protection. They have some really good pass rushers. Their linebackers are active as well. Their front 7 has been pretty much productive all year. They have a great scheme for pressure and pressure the quarterback. They’re similar to a lot of teams in our league. We have to identify where they are coming from, who is who, and execute. Their secondary is a good group and they play well. They have guys that are really athletic. They like to runaround and play. They play well in zone and man and gave quarterbacks different looks throughout the season. They do a good job of understanding their scheme. Their defense reminds me of Arizona State and Oregon, the type of pressure packages they present and exotic schemes.”

The Obvious: The Trojans starting quarterback is redshirt freshman Sam Darnold (6-4, 215), the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and Manning Award Finalist, who now holds the Trojans record for most touchdown passes in a season (26). Darnold calls San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) home and attended San Clemente High School in South Orange County.

The Not So Obvious: The Penn State quarterback is sophomore Trace McSorley (6-0, 215), a second-team All-Big Ten selection, who passed for 3,360 yards with 25 TDs and just five interceptions. McSorley is a native of Ashburn, Virginia, and attended Briar Woods High School.

The Obvious: One of the starting Penn State linebackers/safety is Koa Farmer, a SoCal local who attended Notre Dame High in the San Fernando Valley.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about returning to Southern California to play in the Rose Bowl, Farmer said, Yeah, it’s a dream come true. I grew up ten minutes from the Rose Bowl. Going to these guys’ games all the time, going to the UCLA games. It’s really an honor and blessing to be playing in the game.”

The Obvious: Both the Trojans and Penn State each hold a victory over a team that will be playing Saturday in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans beat Washington in Seattle, 26-13, and the Nittany Lions dropped Ohio State at home, 24-21.

The Obvious: The Trojans secondary could be challenged by a taller Penn State array of receivers.

The Not So Obvious: According to standout Penn State junior wide receiver Chris Godwin (Middletown, Delaware), there is great respect for the Trojans secondary. Godwin says. “It’s a great secondary and, obviously, you have Adoree’ (Jackson), the Thorpe Award winner, and it’s well deserved. He’s not the only guy out there. The corner on the opposite side of Adoree’, (Iman)Marshall, he’s a great young guy, as well, and he got better as the season progressed. They have two or three safeties that can play a factor, so it’s a challenge for us. They have the same type of talent that Michigan’s defensive backs do, but what they do is unique to them.”  

The Obvious: Barak Obama is the outgoing president of the United States.

The Not So Obvious: When the Trojans play Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl, they will have played in the Rose Bowl Game during the term of every U.S. President since 1929, beginning with Herbert Hoover.

The Obvious: The Penn State offensive line will be led by standout grad student center Brian Gaia (6-3, 295).

The Not So Obvious: Assessing the Trojans defensive front, Gaia said, “They have great size and great length. They play really hard and fly around to the ball. They have a really good scheme, so it’s going to be a challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to it. They remind me of Wisconsin. They kind of play the same scheme a little bit. They (USC) have big, athletic standup ends, and I think they are comparable to them (Wisconsin).”

The Obvious: One of the biggest honors is being named the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade and Game.

The Not So Obvious: Two of the three 2017 Rose Parade Grand Marshals, sprinter Allyson Felix and swimmer Janet Evans, attended USC and are among Troy’s most famous Olympians. Rounding out the trio of Grand Marshalls is legendary diver Greg Louganis.

The Obvious: One of the main cogs of the Penn State defensive line is junior defensive end Garrett Sickels (6-4, 249) from Red Bank, New Jersey.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about an overview of the Trojans offense, Sickels said, “They’re a big-play team and they’re very similar to us. The have explosive plays, and they have very talented running backs and quarterback Sam Darnold. The O-line line does a great job protecting. Their wide receiver corps is probably the best we’ve seen this year. They closely resemble us. When I look at the USC offensive line, I see Zack Banner. They are all very athletic and play extremely hard and getting out in space and things like that. They play to the whistle.”

The Obvious: There has been one Rose Bowl Game that has not been played in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

The Not So Obvious: This year is the 75th anniversary of the only Rose Bowl not played in Pasadena. Because of the Pearl Harbor attack several weeks earlier, the U.S. government banned large public gathering on the West Coast for the duration of World War ll. The game was moved to Durham, N.C., where Oregon State defeated host Duke, 20-16.

The Obvious: The Trojans have one player from the state of Pennsylvania (freshman tight end Cary Angeline).

The Not So Obvious: Penn State has one player that hails from a California high school (junior linebacker Koa Farmer from Lake View Terrace and local Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High). Farmer played for standout coach Kevin Rooney.

The Obvious: And finally, parking for the Rose Bowl Game and entrance into the game can be a real challenge.

The Not So Obvious: FYI, Rose Bowl parking lots will open at 4:00 a.m. and the cost is $40 per car. Gate will open into the Rose Bowl stadium at 11:30 a.m. The advice of the O/NSO is get there early – parade or no parade.

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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