Penn State Football ran past Utah 35-21, thanks in large part to a big-play offense, and Manny Diaz’s defense pitching a second-half shutout en route to a Rose Bowl championship.
The Nittany Lions‘ victory was the third New Year’s Six bowl victory under head coach James Franklin, and a storybook sendoff for sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford.
Here are key takeaways from Penn State Football’s Rose Bowl win:
Penn State Football gives Sean Clifford proper sendoff
Clifford has been a main topic of discussion in the Penn State Football media for much of the 2022 season.
Many, including myself, thought that the team should have gone with former five-star freshman Drew Allar the last 4 games of the season, after the Nittany Lions were eliminated from the playoff if nothing else but to get a head start on next year.
However, I will be the first to admit that seeing Clifford get this final big win in the Rose Bowl felt like a proper send off for everything that he has given to the program.
Clifford finished 16-of-22 passing for 279 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Utes.
While Clifford had his ups and downs, he was always a good college quarterback. I think often fans want quarterbacks to be Bryce Young or CJ Stroud and that just isn’t the case for 99% of programs. Most programs can find ways to win with a solid college quarterback and that is what Clifford provided for the 4 seasons that he was a starter. While he was never going to give you the ridiculous play upside on a consistent basis, he was serviceable enough to lead the Nittany Lions to two 11-2 seasons that finished with Cotton and Rose Bowl victories.
Clifford finishes his career with 10,661 yards (1st), 86 passing touchdowns (1st), 833 completions (1st), a 61% completion percentage (1st), and starter victories with 31 (1st).
As if the excitement for next season with the young backfield wasn’t already high, this game accelerated that feeling.
Nick Singleton broke an 87-yard touchdown to start the 3rd quarter that turned out to be the game winning score. The young back exploded through the hole and seemed to pull away from the Utah secondary with ease showcasing his elite speed.
Singleton also had a powerful run to open the games scoring out of a straight T formation that got social media talking as well. Singleton finished with 7 carries for 120 yards and the two touchdowns. Singleton also went over 1,000 rushing yards with his Rose Bowl performance.
While not having the statistics of his counterpart, Kaytron Allen had a solid day as well.
Allen finished with 11 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown rushing and 3 catches for 16 yards. Allen once again showed off his physical running in the 1st half by breaking a tackle in the backfield and powering his way for a 16-yard run.
The Nittany Lions seem to have the perfect balance of power and speed with Allen and Singleton heading into next year and with a returning and improving offensive line expect these two to continue to shine in 2023.
Elite Young Secondary
This is probably the deepest and most talented group that Penn State Football had this season and heading into 2023.
Even with future 1st round draft pick Joey Porter Jr. not playing in this game the Nittany Lions continued to impress. Kalen King (So) has turned into an elite lockdown corner and was all over the field during this game.
King forced the first turnover of the game picking off Rising in the 1st quarter which would lead to a Nick Singleton touchdown on the following drive.
It isn’t just King that fans should be excited about heading into 2023. We knew heading into the game that Johnny Dixon (Jr) would have to step up without Porter Jr. and he delivered. Dixon made the transition seamless and it now looks like Penn State will once again have two elite corners heading into 2023.
While losing Ji’Ayir Brown will be a loss for this defense, having the fast progression of Zakee Wheatley this season will be huge for 2023. It seems like the success that Wheatley has had this year has gone under the radar for freshmen with the success of Singleton, Allen, and Abdul Carter. Wheatley will only get better with another offseason under his belt.
Those are just 3 key players to this secondary next season, but the return of Keaton Ellis, Marquis Wilson, and Kevin Winston Jr. will provide more depth and experience. Coach Terry Smith and Coach Anthony Poindexter have done a great job developing recruits so there is a chance that a key contributor might not even be on the roster yet.
Offensive Line might be best of Franklin era in 2023
With both starting offensive tackles in Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace returning next season, as well as a ton of production on the interior line, 2023 could finally be the year that the offensive line breaks through.
We got a taste of it this season with the run game returning to form and Clifford having more time to throw the football.
It couldn’t be better timing for the offensive line to peak with 5-star Drew Allar taking over next season alongside star running back’s Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
With Fashanu and Wallace hurt toward the end of the season it gave young freshmen Drew Shelton a chance to get valuable snaps and experience. The injuries to the line late in the season across the board could bode well for Penn State in 2023 when it comes to the depth.
I think we are finally starting to see the reason Phil Trautwein was highly sought after to coach the position.
Expectations for 2023
Next season may be the chance for James Franklin to finally break through and reach the playoff.
While expansion to 12 will happen in 2024, there is a legitimate chance this team could make the 4 team field in 2023.
With the returning production on the offensive line and in the backfield, if Drew Allar is as special as advertised this team could win the Big 10. The fact this team with its youth was able to go 11-2 and win the Rose Bowl will most likely mean that Penn State Football has a chance to start the season in the Top 10 next season.
It may all come down to how much Drew Allar was able to learn while sitting behind Sean Clifford this season. It appears that the debate of whether to sit and learn or start immediately at the quarterback position will be tested in 2023 and hopefully for Franklin the decision to learn was the correct one.