Rose Bowl grades: Smith-Schuster, Darnold lead USC over Penn State

Highest-graded players and top takeaways from USC's Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.

| 2 weeks ago
JuJu Smith-Schuster

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rose Bowl grades: Smith-Schuster, Darnold lead USC over Penn State


USC Trojans 52, Penn State Nittany Lions 49

Here are the key takeaways, along with the highest-graded players, from USC’s thrilling 52-49 victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

USC Trojans

Quarterback grade: Sam Darnold, 77.3 

Darnold finds success over the middle 

It certainly wasn’t a perfect game from Darnold, who’s 68.6 adjusted completion percentage on Monday night was well below his season rate of 75.6 percent, which ranked 11th among all qualified FBS QBs this season. Darnold was still able to find enough success, though, to lead the Trojans’ offense past the half-century mark. Darnold was especially successful when targeting receivers 10 yards or more downfield and between the hashmarks; on those intermediate-to-deep throws, he was 9-of-12 for 173 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a near-perfect 156.3 QB rating.

Sam Darnold vs pressure

Top offensive grades:

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 78.8

QB Sam Darnold, 77.3

TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, 74.4

WR Deontay Burnett, 74.3

G Damien Mama, 74.3

Smith-Schuster, Burnett feast on Nittany Lions’ secondary

Of Darnold’s 51 targets to receivers, 30 went to either Smith-Schuster or Burnett, and that was probably wise. Combined, those two WRs hauled in 20 receptions for 297 yards and four touchdowns, and Darnold recorded a 137.5 QB rating when throwing in their direction. The offensive line had a solid day in pass protection, with no single O-lineman surrendering more than two pressures—and none allowing a sack.

Top defensive grades:

DI Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, 91.0

DI Rasheem Green, 86.3

CB Leon McQuay III, 82.9

LB Michael Hutchings, 78.4

CB Iman Marshall, 78.0

Tu’ikolovatu and Green own the middle

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was able to run the ball with success on Monday night, but that’s a big tribute to his individual ability, as he was forced to change his intended point of attack on many occasions—largely thanks to Tu’ikolovatu. Tu’ikolovatu owned Penn State’s interior linemen, constantly squeezing points of attack and forcing Barkley to improvise, while also tallying a team-high seven stops. Green had a solid game in run defense (80.1 run-defense grade) and tallied five total QB pressures—including a sack and a hit—on 31 pass-rushing snaps.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Quarterback grade: Trace McSorley, 59.0 

Up and down night ends in disaster for McSorley 

McSorley coughed up the ball four times on Monday night, throwing three interceptions and dropping a fumble that was recovered by a Penn State offensive lineman. The first two interceptions really weren’t his fault, with the first coming on a clear miscommunication with his wide receiver, and the second on a ball that—while it wasn’t perfect—probably should have been caught by his own receiver. The third interception was inexcusable, though. What’s more, just before that pick, he threw a ball that was equally as damning; fortunately for him, and Penn State fans—for a minute at least—it wasn’t picked off. McSorley made some plays—his second-quarter touchdown throw to Chris Godwin in the back corner of the end zone was absolutely beautiful—but his inconsistencies ultimately cost Penn State in the end.

Trace McSorley vs pressure

Top offensive grades:

WR Chris Godwin, 90.6

HB Saquon Barkley, 83.6

TE Mike Gesicki, 74.0

G Ryan Bates, 73.3

QB Trace McSorley, 59.0

Nittany Lion offense a two-man show

As a team, Penn State gained 465 yards of offense on Monday night in California. 436 of those—or 93.8 percent—belong to either Chris Godwin or Saquon Barkley. Barkley was a joy to watch running the football, finishing the game with an 86.8 rushing grade. His vision, change of direction, and overall elusiveness—especially when considering the inexcusably slick surface they were playing on—were on full display as he forced seven missed tackles. Godwin hauled in 9-of-12 targets for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while Barkley caught all five of his targets for 55 yards and a score. When McSorley threw to a receiver who wasn’t one of those two, he completed just three of eight passes for just 20 yards, and two of his three interceptions; his passer rating when throwing to someone not named Godwin or Barkley was just 45.8.

Top defensive grades:  

DI Kevin Givens, 79.5

CB John Reid, 78.5

LB Jason Cabinda, 76.8

DI Curtis Cothran, 74.4

S Marcus Allen, 73.7

Defense plays well against the run, poorly against the pass

As a team, the Penn State defense had a pretty solid day against the run. They held USC runners to an average of just 3.8 yards per carry while missing just two tackles on 33 rush attempts. Five Nittany Lions defenders finished the night with at least a slightly above-average run-defense grade, with another few scoring just below the threshold. In terms of pass-rushing, though, Penn State was only able to tally 18 pressures on the day (three hits, 15 hurries), with just 10 of those coming from the defensive line, allowing Sam Darnold to sit back in a clean pocket and dissect the secondary.

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. 

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