Utah will get its second chance to win its first Rose Bowl when it faces Penn State in the 109th edition of college football’s oldest bowl game Monday.
The Utes lost to Ohio State, 48-45, on New Year’s Day, 2022, in their Rose Bowl debut, unable to hold a 35-21 halftime lead, with C.J. Stroud throwing three of his six touchdown passes in the second half and Noah Ruggles kicking the tie-breaking 19-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
“I remember seeing them celebrate and have the ceremony right after and seeing that after I walked off the field and that’s been engraved in my head ever since,” Utah quarterback Cam Rising said. “(I) want to be on the other side of it now.”
Rising threw touchdown passes on two of the Utes’ first three possessions to give them a 14-0 lead with three minutes, 28 seconds left in the first quarter. Utah also scored touchdowns on its next three possessions on Tavion Thomas’ 6-yard run, Britain Covey’s 97-yard kickoff return, both in the second quarter, and Rising’s 62-yard run 6:24 before halftime, the first half’s last score.
Rising missed nearly the final 10 minutes when he was sacked and his helmet hit the ground hard as he fell. He stayed down for a few minutes while receiving attention from trainers and eventually walked off the field and to the medical tent under his own power.
“It’s a four-quarter game and doesn’t really matter what you do in the first three,” said Rising, a graduate of Newbury Park High School in Ventura County. “You have to go out there and finish the game and just put yourself in a good position for it.”
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said a victory would be “another big step in the right direction for us” but “the season is a success regardless” of the game’s outcome.
Utah (10-3) earned its second consecutive Rose Bowl berth with a 47-24 victory over USC in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game Dec. 2.
The Nittany Lions (10-2) received their first Rose Bowl berth since Jan. 2, 2017, after Michigan and Ohio State both finished in the top four in the final College Football Playoff rankings, putting both in the playoff. Penn State was the only other Big Ten team in the College Football Playoff rankings, putting it in the Rose Bowl for the fifth time.
The game is also a second chance for Nitanny Lions coach James Franklin to record his first Rose Bowl victory. Franklin was Penn State’s coach in its most recent Rose Bowl appearance, a 52-49 loss to USC on Jan. 2, 2017. Penn State is 1-3 in the Rose Bowl, with the lone victory coming in its second appearance, a 38-20 victory over Oregon on Jan. 2, 1995 under the late Joe Paterno.
The Utes were ranked seventh in the latest Associated Press poll, released Dec. 4, two spots ahead of the Nittany Lions.
Utah has won six of its past seven games, including defeating USC twice, the Trojans’ only losses.
“They’re built very much so from an old-school perspective in terms of hard-nosed, physical, sound in everything they do,” Franklin said. “They’ve been able to typically dominate the fronts on the O-line and D-line.”
Penn State has won four consecutive games. Its losses were to Ohio State and Michigan.
The Utes are seventh among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring entering Monday’s play, averaging 40 points per game. Utah has scored at least 30 points in 10 of its 13 games.
“They do a great job of just questioning your toughness down for down, the way they pound the football,” Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.
Penn State is averaging 35.8 points per game, 19th in the nation, and has scored at least 30 points in 10 of its 12 games.
The Nittany Lions are allowing 18 points game, ninth among FBS teams.
“The whole defense impresses me,” said Whittingham, who was the Utes’ defensive coordinator from 1995 to 2004 before becoming coach in 2005. “I’m going to say right now, I don’t think there’s any question that this is the best linebacking crew that we’ve seen all season long.”
Utah is allowing 20.4 points per game, 19th in the nation.
“Our philosophy, and it appears Penn State is very similar, is to be tough against the run,” Whittingham said. “If you take away the run, if you can tell a team they can’t run the football and turn them one dimensional and get them to third down, third-and-long ideally and get after the quarterback, that’s really the simple formula.”
Penn State will be playing for the first time since Nov. 26 when it defeated Michigan State, 35-16.
“The one thing you always worry about in bowl games, you haven’t played in a month, kind of got to restart, reestablish your toughness,” Diaz said. “Tackling is always crucial in bowl games, so I think those will be the big things.”
The Utes will be without Thomas, their leading rusher, who hasn’t played since suffering a toe injury in a 20-17 loss to Oregon Nov. 19. He announced on Nov. 25 he would make himself eligible for the NFL draft and concentrate on rehabbing and preparing for the East-West Shrine Bowl all-star game Feb. 2.
Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid and cornerback Clark Phillips III have opted-out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft as has Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr., an Associated Press second-team All-America selection.
The Utes are a 1 1/2-point favorite. Utah has a 57.4% of winning, according to ESPN Analytics.
Because New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, the game is being played one day later than usual because of the Tournament of Roses Association’s “Never on Sunday” rule. This will be the 15th time the Rose Bowl has been played on Jan. 2 and the first since 2017.
The 2 p.m. game will be televised by ESPN.
The game will be the first meeting between Utah and Penn State.
This is will likely be the last time the Rose Bowl is guaranteed its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup. The next game will be a College Football Playoff semifinal. Beginning with the 2024 season, the Rose Bowl will either be a playoff quarterfinal or semifinal in the expanded 12-team playoff.
The Rose Bowl annually matched teams from what are now the Big Ten and Pac-12 from Jan. 1, 1947 through Jan. 1, 2001. The Rose Bowl served as the Bowl Championship Series national championship game on Jan. 3, 2002, the first of five nontraditional matchups through 2011, including the Jan. 4, 2006, BCS national championship game.
The Rose Bowl has annually matched Big Ten and Pac-12 teams since 2012, except in 2018 and 2021 when the game served as a College Football Playoff semifinal.