Gold: How does Utah stack up with Penn State in major Rose Bowl matchup?
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is adept at turning perceived slights into motivation for his Utes.
Then again, there’s nothing “perceived” about allowing 48 points in a brutally close Rose Bowl loss. Utah’s first appearance in the Granddaddy of Them All didn’t quite go as planned, and he and the Utes have carried that with them all season.
Penn State might just have Ohio State to blame for Utah’s energy and angst on Monday in a matinee matchup.
Here’s a look at this terrific Rose Bowl matchup, with a prediction at the end.
Tale of the Tape
Penn State: 10-2
Utah: 6-3 in Pac-12
Penn State: 7-2 in Big Ten
Utah: Kyle Whittingham (xx-xx at Utah since 2005, 154-73 overall)
Penn State: James Franklin (77-36 at Penn State, 101-51 overall)
|Category||Average||Pac-12 Ranking||National Ranking|
|Scoring Offense||40.0 ppg||3rd||7th|
|Scoring Defense||20.38 ppg||1st||19th|
|Total Offense||472.69 ypg||5th||16th|
|Total Defense||325.31 ypg||1st||18th|
|Passing Offense||252.46 ypg||9th||46th|
|Passing Defense||218.31 ypg||2nd||54th|
|Rushing Offense||220.23 ypg||2nd||10th|
|Rushing Defense||107.0 ypg||1st||15th|
|Category||Average||Big Ten Ranking||National Ranking|
|Scoring Offense||35.8 ppg||3rd||19th|
|Scoring Defense||18.0 ppg||5th||9th|
|Total Offense||432.4 ypg||3rd||34th|
|Total Defense||317.8 ypg||7th||13th|
|Passing Offense||250.3 ypg||4th||49th|
|Passing Defense||212.8 ypg||9th||47th|
|Rushing Offense||182.1 ypg||4th||43th|
|Rushing Defense||105.1 ypg||5th||14th|
Utah: It’d be easy to call the Utes’ 47-24 rout of USC in the Pac-12 title game their season high, but Utah’s regular-season win over the Trojans was truly the high point.
The Utes gutted out a 43-42 last-minute win over the mighty Trojans, who were undefeated to that point, and wouldn’t lose again until the title game.
Penn State: Penn State bounced back from a brutal loss at Michigan on Oct. 15 in a big way, defeating Minnesota 45-17 in Week 8, 45-17. Then, after losing to Ohio State the following week, the Nittany Lions rebounded once more, with 4 straight dominating victories by a combined score of 165-40.
Utah: A 42-32 loss at the Rose Bowl was a blow. A 20-17 loss at Autzen Stadium was tough.
But the Utes’ season-opening 29-26 loss at the Swamp, to a Florida team that proved unimpressive, caught them in quicksand early.
Penn State: Losing to Ohio State, 44-31, at home is arguably more demoralizing than a 41-17 loss at Michigan two weeks prior. The final margin, may have been bigger against the Wolverines, but losing in State College against a rival? That hurts.
Utah: In the last 40 years, only one program has lost a Rose Bowl and gone on to win it the next year, USC in 1989-90 and the Trojans in 2006-07.
Penn State: Penn State has a chance to win 11 games for the 4th time in 6 full seasons, an achievement reached only one other time in program history, from 1968-73.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham:
“We came up short last year against a very good Ohio State team, lost by one or two points there, last drive of the game decided the outcome. But if we were able to get a win, that would obviously be another step in the right direction for our program. But I can tell you right now, the season is a success regardless, for our program to be able to go back-to-back from where we started when we joined this conference 11 or 12 years ago was a big step in the right direction, and we talked about that all season that getting to the top is one thing but staying on top is another. It’s a bigger challenge and it’s harder to sustain success than get there the first time, and I think our guys did a great job of taking that to heart. So here we are back again. But yeah, if we were able to pull out a win, that would be another big step in the right direction for us.”
Penn State head coach James Franklin:
“I think there’s a lot of similarities between our programs and how they’re built, fundamentalist program, tough, sound. We’re playing really well on defense and have been all year long. I think they’ve been built with his background on the defensive side of the ball, as well. But I think their quarterback really makes them go. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.
I think sometimes when you think about quarterbacks, you don’t think about toughness, but really that position, that guy better be the toughest guy in your program. You’ve got to stand there and deliver a ball with an unblocked blitzer, and you know you’re going to get hit and you’re in a defenseless position and deliver the ball, and he’s done it time and time again. Obviously the play against USC, the big hit where his helmet comes off and how he pops up, I think really just kind of illustrates who they are as a program. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.”
Three Big Questions
1) Is this Cam Rising’s swan song?
The Utes star quarterback has yet to announce his plans for next season, and I think that has to do with some unfinished business left at the college level. I get the feeling that the result of Monday’s matchup will go a long way to helping him decide his future.
Should the Utes win the Rose Bowl, he might feel like he’s accomplished all he’s set out to at the college level. Dropping back-to-back Rose Bowls is just the kind of fuel that sticks up a competitor like Rising’s craw.
2) Can Thomas Yassmin make it two in a row?
You don’t really think the Utes are going to go away from their vaunted tight end position, do you?
With Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe out for the Utes, they’ll turn to Australian giant Thomas Yassmin, who caught 2 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in the Pac-12 title game, including a 60-yard score.
“That’s obviously a position that has had a lot of production for us this year, but like everyone else in the country, we’ve got injuries and guys that opted out,” Whittingham said. “It’s almost like this isn’t the team you played with during the regular season. It’s a transitional team, transitioning into next year where you don’t have your recruits yet for next year but you’re missing a bunch of guys from the regular season, and everyone in the country is in the same boat. We’ve got a couple more tight ends we feel really good about, Thomas Yassmin is the guy who really is going to be picking up a slot of the slack for what those two guys that we’re missing; Logan Kendall, more of a blocking tight end that’s invaluable to us. What he brings to the table in the run game, and he can also catch, as well, but he’s a guy that does the dirty work for us. Then Taniela Pututau, so we’ve still got some guys there, but obviously it’s tough to be missing guys the caliber of those two tight ends. We thought we had maybe the best tandem in the country, but they’re out, so we move on, next man up mentality, and away you go.”
3) Can Utes make up for the absence Clark Phillips III?
Clark was one of the best defensive players in the country this season, and should be a 1st-round pick come April’s NFL Draft. He’s sitting out the big game in order to stay healthy for draft preparation.
His loss cannot be overstated. Phillips is one of the best covermen in the game. Zemaiah Vaughn is expected to get the lion’s share of the reps across from JaTravis Broughton.
“Clark Phillips, he’s one of a kind. … He’s a great leader, so being around him just makes you push himself more and go harder in everything you do,” Vaughn told the Deseret News.
Besides, Phillips isn’t the only stud cornerback sitting out…
1) Can the Nittany Lions replace Joey Porter Jr.?
… Not with PSU’s stud Porter sitting out for the same reason as Phillips.
A first-team all-Big Ten selection, Porter is expected to be a 1st round pick as well, so he’s out.
Penn State is still in good shape, though, with Kalen King and Johnny Dixon.
2) Can the Nittany Lions threaten Utah vertically?
Last year, C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes rained all over the Utes in the 48-45 win.
With Parker Washington out after getting injured in the regular-season finale against Michigan State, the question is, do the Nittany Lions have the kind of threats to challenge Utah the same way? Granted, the Utes are drastically healthier than they were a year ago.
Like Utah, Penn State likes to utilize tight ends in its passing game, and both Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson have proved effective.
3) Will Penn State’s freshman backs rise to the occasion?
Rarely do a pair of freshmen running backs come in and share the workload like Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen have this season.
Allen has 156 carries for 830 yards and 9 touchdowns on the year and Singleton has 941 yards and 10 scores on 149 carries.
The Utes can’t afford to let either of them get hot.
This is a classic matchup between two programs made in each other’s image. Strong-willed head coaches, steady quarterbacks, stout defenses. Ultimately, Utah’s thirst for revenge and desire to take another step as a program puts them over the top.
Utah 31, Penn State 24