Five Things We Learned: 2017 Rose Bowl

Story posted January 3, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Zach Seyko

Penn State concluded its 2016-2017 season in heartbreaking fashion with a 52-49 loss in the Rose Bowl to the USC Trojans.  The Nittany Lions were down at the end of the first half 27-21, but bounced back in the second half, as usual, scoring four unanswered touchdowns and sporting a 49-35 lead by the middle of the fourth quarter.  Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold responded and turned in an unbelievable performance and put his name on the map in the Grand Daddy of them All. Darnold threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns and led a 17-point comeback to secure a victory.

Tied at 49-49, Penn State had possession with 1:20 remaining in the game. After two poorly executed plays, redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley heaved a deep ball intended for junior wide out Chris Godwin that landed in the hands of senior safety Leon McQuay III, who returned the interception to the Penn State 33-yard line.

After missing two field goals earlier in the contest, redshirt junior kicker Matt Boermeester converted the 46-yard field goal to take 52-49 lead as time expired.

Penn State fans, players and coaches saw the unimaginable comeback happen before their very own eyes, something Happy Valley had become accustomed to after the Ohio State victory.

The future is bright at Penn State and spirits around University Park should remain high. Here are five things learned from the Penn State-USC Rose Bowl game.

1.) Godwin is first round draft pick material.

Godwin finished with another impressive bowl game to add to his career achievements. Godwin hauled in nine passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while being shadowed mostly by the talented USC corner and return man Adoree Jackson. Godwin clearly won the battle against Jackson, even though his team lost the game. Godwin was wide open on many plays and scored his two touchdowns when covered by Jackson. Godwin displayed maturity, leadership and true NFL-caliber abilities with his route running, quick reactions and hot hands in the 2017 Rose Bowl. From juggling catches to one handed snags, Godwin put on a show that could boost him into the first round if he declares for the 2017 NFL Draft. If he decides to stay at Penn State for his senior season, scouts will be ready to follow his progress and play all of next year.

2.) Saquon Barkley is the best running back in the NCAA.

It is not biased, it is true: Saquon Barkley is the best running back in the nation. Barkley was a maniac in his second career bowl game gouging the USC defense for 194 rushing yards, 55 receiving yards on five receptions and three total touchdowns. The beast can do it all, and it was a shame that he was barely mentioned in the Heisman discussion this season. Barkley is every coach’s dream player not only because of his talent, but his work ethic, leadership and motivation. Barkley has the best ball carrier vision I have ever seen in a running back at his age, and possesses the ability to cut on a dime right before a defender’s eyes. He showed just that on his 79-yard touchdown run early in the third to break open the game. Barkley redirected his path to the outside after the inside run was stuffed by USC, and then juked back to the middle of field past three defenders to find pay dirt. Very few running backs, if any, can do what he does on the field, and provide the interpersonal skills in the locker room. After the 2016 season, Barkley’s name will definitely be in the discussion of top college running backs in Fall 2017.

3.) The secondary needs a new look by next fall.

Plain and simple, Penn State’s secondary is bad and needs a makeover to enter the 2017 season. As mentioned, Darnold threw for 453 yards and allowed five passing touchdowns. Aside from the horrid stat sheet, Penn State corners committed multiple pass interferences, and two on USC’s game-tying drive to set them up for the tying score. The secondary was huge against Ohio State, but fell off as the season wore on. Junior safety Marcus Allen has great instincts to find the opposing ball carrier, but is a liability in coverage. Sophomore cornerback John Reid was praised as one of Penn State’s best defensive players, but was also subject to poor plays in the pass defense. Junior cornerback Grant Haley continues to struggle in coverage and looks as if the game is too fast for him from time to time. Reid will be the face of the secondary in 2017, but who else can step up for Blue & White and fill those holes? Redshirt freshman corner Garrett Taylor can provide much needed talent opposite of Reid if Haley fails to be a playmaker in 2017. The Virginia native was a four-star high school prospect and ranked sixth in the state by 247 Sports. Penn State’s main defensive focus must be the secondary, because its performances were anything but impressive in the final games of this season.

4.) James Franklin is not a great coach, yet.

Head coach James Franklin is going to receive a lot of well-deserved criticism from the final two minutes of the Rose Bowl. The end result could be blamed on the coordinators or McSorley for his errant pass, but ultimately the responsibility lies on the head coach. Penn State had the perfect opportunity to regain the lead with 1:20 left in the fourth, but could not execute and turned the ball over to set up USC for a game-winning score. Franklin and co. blew a 14-point lead and ran some very questionable plays on their final drive of the game. USC head coach Clay Helton was able to craft a game plan late in the game that Franklin and the Nittany Lions could not answer. Franklin is a good coach and is one of the best talent evaluators in the country, but he showed that he could still be outcoached in crunch time. Franklin should be praised after 2016 and his first double digit win season at Penn State. Franklin made strides as a head coach outdueling Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. He has brought a winning culture back to University Park and plans brining the coveted National Championship, too. Until he fully overcomes in the late-game coaching struggles and poor game management, Franklin can only be described as a great recruiter, and a good coach.

5.) The sky is the limit for Penn State next season.

Penn State fans far and wide should rejoice after the 11-3 season, despite the heart wrenching Rose Bowl defeat. A Big Ten Title, a Rose Bowl berth, key wins against difficult opponents in Ohio State and Wisconsin, commitments from top high school recruits and the return of a winning culture to Happy Valley are just some of the amazing milestones achieved in 2016. Penn State will be early favorites to defend the Big Ten Title and make an appearance in the College Football Playoffs, but the path will be challenging. Penn State welcomes a grudge match with Pittsburgh at Beaver Stadium, hosts Michigan to get even with head coach Jim Harbuagh and travels to the Horseshoe to prove the doubters wrong and knock off Meyer and Ohio State once again. Currently, Penn State is retaining eight starters on defense and ten starters on offense heading into next season. Penn State will not disappoint in 2017 as Franklin, McSorley and Barkley will look to avenge the Rose Bowl loss and use it as motivation to give the Nittany Lion fan base something to be even more proud of. 

 

Zach Seyko is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email zachseyko@msn.com.