Penn State dominates second half in 35-21 Rose Bowl win over Utah

No. 11 Penn State rode big plays to 21 straight points in the second half on the way to a 35-21 win over No. 8 Utah in the Rose Bowl.

After the two teams were tied 14-14 at halftime, PSU freshman running back Nick Singleton broke off an 87-yard run to put the Nittany Lions up by seven in the third quarter.

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Less than 10 minutes later, QB Sean Clifford found WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith behind the entire Utah secondary for an 88-yard touchdown. The longest pass play in Rose Bowl history gave Penn State (11-2) a two-TD lead that was insurmountable for a Utah team that lost Cameron Rising in the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive season.

The Utah QB left the 2022 Rose Bowl against Ohio State after he suffered a concussion when his head hit the turf a year ago. Monday night, Rising went down with an apparent left knee injury after he was tackled by four Penn State players while running for a first down. Rising already had a brace on that knee and immediately collapsed to the ground after he got up from the hit and attempted to put weight on his leg.

Like he was a season ago, Rising was replaced by backup QB Bryson Barnes. But Utah’s offense didn’t have any juice with Barnes in the game. Penn State removed any doubt from the outcome just minutes after Lambert-Smith’s TD when Kaytron Allen scored a 1-yard TD run for a three-TD lead.

Rising went to the locker room after his knee injury and returned to the sideline midway through the fourth quarter wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The win is Penn State’s second Rose Bowl victory in five appearances. The Nittany Lions’ lone Rose Bowl win before Monday came in 1995 when it beat Oregon 38-20. Penn State last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 2017 when it lost an epic 52-49 thriller to USC.

Utah tied the game in the second quarter on Ja’Quinden Jackson’s 19-yard TD run. But the Utes ran out of time on their final drive before halftime and went punt, interception, punt, punt and turnover on downs before scoring a TD with less than 30 seconds left.

Sean Clifford goes out with a win

The longtime Penn State starter played one of the best games of his career on Monday. Clifford finished the game 16-of-21 passing for 279 yards and two TDs as he became the winningest QB in Penn State history.

The four-year starter took over as Penn State’s primary QB at the start of the 2019 season and had a solid, if not spectacular career. Clifford never threw more than 10 interceptions in any of his four seasons as the starter and also never threw more than 24 TDs in a single season while completing 61% of his career pass attempts.

Monday’s win was the 32nd victory with Clifford under center and the second time Penn State had won 11 games in a season in his time with the school. With Clifford leaving Penn State at the end of the season, highly touted freshman Drew Allar is the favorite to take over as the starter.

Allar was a four-star recruit and the No. 5 pro-style QB in the class of 2022, according to Rivals. With Singleton emerging as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten and the possibility of adding a wide receiver or two in the transfer portal, Penn State’s offense shouldn’t take a step back at all in 2023.

Utah aiming for a third-straight Pac-12 title in 2023

The Utes got back to the Rose Bowl after beating USC for the Pac-12 title. And Rising wasn’t the only important member of the offense missing from at least part of the game. Star tight end Dalton Kincaid didn’t play in the game as he prepares for the NFL draft. Kincaid led the Utes with 70 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns.

Rising has another year of eligibility remaining, though it’s unclear if he’ll use it in 2023. If he does, he’ll join an already impressive roster of QBs in the Pac-12 next season. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams will be back for his second season at USC, Oregon’s Bo Nix is returning too and so is Washington's Michael Penix. Oregon State added Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei in the transfer portal and Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne transferred to Arizona State. Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders is also set to be a part of the conference after he followed his father Deion to Colorado.

Penn State running back Nicholas Singleton (10) runs toward the end zone for a touch down during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Utah Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Penn State's Nick Singleton scored on this 87-yard run in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)