Another 8-year gap ensued and Penn State, ranked 5th in the country, squared off against the familiar foe USC, ranked 8th. This Penn State squad started the season unranked (sound familiar anyone? ) but featured its own high-powered offense. Led by two-time All-B1G OPOY Saquon Barkley and the indomitable Trace McSorley at QB, they overcame two regular season losses to win the Big Ten East and defeat Wisconsin in the conference championship game, 38-31.
It wouldn’t be long before this game would show why it was ranked as the 24th best college football game of all-time by ESPN . USC jumped out in the first quarter to a 13-0 lead with a couple of field goals and a 26-yard TD pass from Sam Darnold to Deontay Burnett.
The second quarter was a high explosive one as the teams combined for 5 touchdowns. Saquon got PSU on the board with a 24-yard run. USC responded with another Darnold to Burnett toss, this one from 3 yards out. McSorley responded with his own 30-yard strike to Chris Godwin. Darnold threw his 3rd TD of the day, another 3-yarder to Darreus Rogers. The final score of the half game with 54 seconds on the clock, as McSorley hit Mike Gesicki for an 11-yard TD.
The third quarter picked up right where the first half ended, as Barkley exploded for an electrifying 79 yard TD run . A minute and a half later, PSU erupted again with a 72 yard juggling TD to Chris Godwin. McSorley ran for a 3-yard TD. USC’s only score in the quarter came on a 13-yard toss to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Penn State closed the stanza with a 7-yard pass to Barkley.
Sadly, the 4th quarter belonged to USC, as Penn State couldn’t hold up a 14-point lead. USC scored on a touchdown run and another touchdown pass from Darnold. They won the game on a 46-yard field goal from Matt Boermeester. What made this kick impressive was Boermeester had 2 missed field goals earlier in the game.
Saquon closed out his Penn State career with one of his best games, rushing for 194 yards and 2 TDs and adding 55 yards on 5 catches and 1 TD. Chris Godwin, who always came up big in bowl games, had a career day with 187 yards on 9 catches and 1 TD. McSorley’s 4 touchdown performance was marred by 3 interceptions. Sam Darnold had his own career day, throwing for a personal record 453 yards with 5 TD’s and 1 interception.