By Johnny Curren
PASADENA, Calif. — In a game that has to go down as one of the most thrilling in the 103-year history of the Rose Bowl, USC redshirt-junior placekicker Matt Boermeester connected on a 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired on Monday night, lifting the No. 9 Trojans to a 52-49 victory over No. 5 Penn State.
Both teams came into the game rolling, with USC (10-3) riding an eight-game winning streak, and the Nittany Lions (11-3) having reeled off nine consecutive victories of their own. Early on, however, it looked the Trojans could potentially run away with the game in a hurry.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley threw an interception on each of the Nittany Lions’ first two offensive drives, and the Trojans held a 13-0 lead after one quarter of play.
But that’s when McSorley and Co. got hot, scoring touchdowns on seven consecutive offensive series’, and eventually turning a 27-14 deficit into a 42-27 lead.
In addition to McSorley, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns, tailback Saquon Barkley played a crucial role in the Nittany Lions mid-game run, rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
It was also Barkley who hauled in a seven-yard touchdown pass to give the Nittany Lions what appeared to be a commanding 49-35 lead late in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter would belong to the Trojans, however, as Clancy Pendergast’s defensive group came up with some key stops after struggling throughout much of the contest, and USC quarterback Sam Darnold worked what has become his trademark magic.
The redshirt-freshman passer put on a performance for the ages down the stretch, first engineering a 10-play, 83-yard drive mid-way through the final quarter that was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Ronal Jones II, cutting Penn State’s lead to seven points.
Following a clutch tackle-for-loss on third down by Michael Hutchings on a rushing attempt by Barkley, the Trojans got the ball back with 1:59 left in the game, and that was more than enough time for Darnold. This time he drove the USC offense 80 yards down the field on just three plays, hitting wide receiver Deontay Burnett for a 27-yard touchdown to tie the game up at 49-49 with 1:20 remaining.
It certainly appeared as though the game would be headed to overtime at that point, but just one play after USC safety Leon McQuay III dropped a sure pick, he got a second chance, and this time he intercepted McSorley’s deep pass down the sideline, returning it 32 yards to the Penn State 33-yard line.
The Trojans then took two plays to set up Boermeester’s field goal attempt, before he put it through the uprights. He was 3-5 for the night.
Darnold came away with Offensive MVP honors, completing 33 of 53 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns with one interception, while also picking up 20 yards on the ground.
Graduate-transfer defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu earned Defensive MVP honors for the Trojans after compiling eight tackles (6 solo).
Burnett is another player who had a fantastic outing for USC, making 13 catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns. JuJu Smith-Schuster was second on the team with seven receptions for 133 yards and one touchdown.
Chris Godwin led the Nittany Lions with nine catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns.
USC outgained Penn State in total offensive yardage 575-465.
With the victory, the Trojans have now won 25 total Rose Bowl games.