How USC can best Penn State in the Rose Bowl
It’s bowl season and this year the “Granddaddy of them all” — the Rose Bowl, 5 p.m. ET Monday — features a match-up of teams that are playing some of the best football in the country. The USC Trojans and the Penn State Nittany Lions both come into the Rose Bowl riding long winning streaks and relying on solid play from their young exciting quarterbacks.
What to watch for when USC has the ball
Since Sam Darnold has taken over as the starting quarterback for USC the Trojans have been playing some of the best football in the nation. Darnold has the athleticism to extend plays, makes quick decisions in the pocket, has the ability to make throws into tight coverage and has been highly accurate on the year as his 76.5 accuracy percentage ranks No. 9 in FBS and his 66.1 accuracy percentage under pressure ranks No. 6 in the Power-5.
Darnold will essentially be a point guard distributing the ball to the talented players around him as USC’s offensive skill position players are some of the best Penn State has faced this season. JuJu Smith-Schuster can make things happen with the ball in his hands, has 365 yards after the catch, has forced 9 missed tackles and his 123.0 WR rating ranks No. 21 in Power-5.
The Nittany Lions have had issues with tackling effectively at times this season but will be facing some of the most elusive running backs in the nation. Justin Davis has forced 27 missed tackles as a runner, averages 4.1 yards after contact per attempt and ranks No. 10 in elusive rating among Power-5 running backs. While Ronald Jones II has forced 30 missed tackles as a runner, averages 4.2 yards rushing after contact per attempt and ranks No. 35 in elusive rating among Power-5 running backs.
What to watch when Penn State has the ball
Quarterback Trace McSorley’s performances have been a key reason behind the high level of play the Nittany Lions showcased during the latter half of the year. McSorley is willing and able to attack the perimeter of opposing defenses and looks to be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the B1G conference next season. Currently, McSorley has a PFF QB rating of 97.88, which ranks No. 3 in the Power-5.
USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson can quickly turn any McSorley pass into a touchdown for either team. Jackson is an elite athlete who can make acrobatic interceptions, but will also give up big plays. Jackson has given up 6 touchdowns in coverage this year, the eighth-most allowed by any Power-5 cornerback.
Penn State has seen improved offensive line play and the Trojans lack a dominant edge rusher but USC has gotten solid work from Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu who rank No. 39 and No. 46 respectively among Power-5 3-4 outside linebackers in pass-rushing productivity.
Saquon Barkley has been one of the most elusive running backs in the nation since he arrived at Penn State. This season Barkley has forced 61 missed tackles, generated 748 yards after contact and limiting his big plays will be a key for the Trojans. USC’s defense has some good run-stoppers in Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Josh Fatu, whose run-stop percentages rank No. 4 and No. 16, respectively, among Power-5 defensive tackles.
PFF stat to know
The USC offensive line is filled with talented pass blockers. Tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler rank No. 7 and No. 20 respectively in pass-blocking efficiency among Power-5 tackles, while guard Damien Mama ranks No. 6 in pass-blocking efficiency among Power-5 guards. As a unit the Trojans offensive line ranks No. 10 in pass-blocking efficiency among all Power-5 teams.
Prediction: USC 34, Penn State 27
College football fans should tune in to watch this Rose Bowl to see two of the hottest teams in the country and two of the best teams not featured in the playoff. Additionally, this Rose Bowl will feature two of the best young quarterbacks who will be returning to college football next year in Sam Darnold and Trace McSorley. The Trojans should prove too talented top-to-bottom for the Nittany Lions in this game and Las Vegas agrees, as the spread sees USC as 7-point favorites over Penn State.