Alec Whitaker (Editor)
Penn State football has had quite the journey to the Rose Bowl this season.
From a nerve-wracking comeback win to start the season against Purdue to crushing Auburn to being blown out by Michigan and then not being able to hang on against Ohio State, it has been an up and down journey for the Nittany Lions.
But here they are, in the Rose Bowl with a chance to knock off a very tough Utah team.
That Utah team is led by gritty quarterback Cameron Rising. Rising completing 66% of his passes for 2,939 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He added another 409 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Not having his go-to target in tight end Dalton Kincaid is certainly going to hurt, but wide receiver Devaughn Vele and his 50 catches on the season will be there to fill the void.
The Utes strong rushing attack will also give the Nittany Lions some trouble. The Utes average 220 rushing yards and nearly three rushing touchdowns per game.
Penn State has played plenty of strong running teams over the past two seasons though. The Nittany Lions have played Michigan twice, Michigan State twice, Auburn twice, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Now, Penn State did not win all of those games, but the team has plenty of experience against teams like Utah.
On offense, Penn State would like to run the ball, especially with star wide receiver Parker Washington out of this game. The running back duo of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen will be relied on heavily by the Nittany Lions.
The Utes give up just 107 rushing yards per game and less than four yards a carry. This is a tough defense to run on. The Nittany Lions should be healthy on the offensive line though, with both starting tackles, Olu Fashanu and Caeden Wallace expected back for the Rose Bowl.
Penn State may also find more success passing the ball, even without Washington, because Utah’s top corner Clark Phillips III is opting out of the game. He led the Utes with six interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Utah is big and physical, but so is Penn State. This game really does feel like strength vs strength.
The one area where Penn State football may have the advantage is that it’s played teams like Utah before. Utah, playing in the Pac-12, has played a lot of teams that like to throw the ball and rely on their skill players instead of being physical in the trenches. The Nittany Lions have been punched in the mouth, the Utes really haven’t to the same extent.
There’s also the factor of the opt outs. Both teams will be without their leading receiver and top cornerback, equal trade off. But Penn State has already played meaningful games without their opt outs, Utah really hasn’t. Another advantage for Penn State.
Both teams are hungry for a win, but after losing to Ohio State in heartbreaking fashion last year in the Rose Bowl, this game is definitely personal for some Utah players. They will be motivated to win this game.
Factoring everything in, Penn State has a slight advantage. The Nittany Lions are a deeper team and are better equipped to handle opt outs and a physical game like this one will be.
Penn State 28 Utah 24