PASADENA, Calif. — KeAndre Lambert-Smith had the longest touchdown reception in Rose Bowl history on an 88-yard pass from Sean Clifford, freshman Nicholas Singleton broke a tiebreaking 87-yard touchdown run, and No. 9 Penn State rallied past No. 7 Utah 35-21 in the 109th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.
Clifford passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns in an impressive farewell to Penn State, and Singleton rushed for 120 yards and two more scores on a rainy day filled with spectacular big plays by the Nittany Lions (11-2).
Utah couldn’t rally with quarterback Cameron Rising sidelined by a second-half injury, and coach James Franklin’s exuberant group comfortably won the Rose Bowl for the second time in school history and the first since Jan. 2, 1995.
Singleton got the Nittany Lions rolling in a well-played game when he broke through Utah’s defensive front and outran the secondary for his second touchdown early in the third quarter. The 87-yard romp was the third-longest TD run in Rose Bowl history and the second-longest in Penn State’s bowl history.
Shortly after rain began to fall on the Rose Bowl Game for the first time since 1997, Lambert-Smith got open deep and eluded Utah’s defensive backs on the first snap of the fourth quarter for the longest pass completion in Penn State’s bowl history. Clifford’s pass also broke the Rose Bowl record of 76 yards by Michigan’s Rick Leach to Curt Stephenson in 1978 against Washington.
Freshman Kaytron Allen added a 1-yard TD run with 10:36 to play, and Penn State’s defense got stops on the Utes’ first six drives of the second half.
The victory was a fitting finale for Clifford, the sixth-year senior who finally added a memorable bowl performance to his slew of Penn State career passing records in his 51st game. Clifford also became the winningest quarterback in school history with his 32nd victory, passing Trace McSorley.
Franklin called a timeout with 2:30 left to allow a hero’s farewell for Clifford, who waved at the standing ovation from Penn State’s white-clad fans while his teammates applauded.
“I’m just so thankful for this place,” Clifford said. “I can’t put it into words. It’s so amazing. I just love Penn State so much.”
Rising passed for 95 yards before apparently injuring his left knee in the third quarter, forcing the Utah quarterback out of his second straight Rose Bowl early due to injury. Bryson Barnes replaced Rising for the second straight year, but the two-time Pac-12 champion Utes (10-4) couldn’t rally behind their backup.
Ja'Quinden Jackson rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown for Utah. Thomas Yassmin caught an early TD pass from Rising, but Utah was shut out for 32 straight minutes before Jaylen Dixon‘s TD catch with 25 seconds to play.
Rising, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Utah history, got hurt while being tackled after scrambling for a first down near midfield, eventually trudging to the locker room and returning later in street clothes. The Ventura County native also got hurt on a sack in the fourth quarter of last year’s 48-45 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.
Barnes threw his first collegiate passes against the Buckeyes after Rising’s injury and led an improbable tying touchdown drive before Ohio State won it at the gun. Barnes couldn’t recapture that magic in his second Rose Bowl relief role, going 10 of 19 for 112 yards with an interception.
The unusually gloomy afternoon in Arroyo Seco marked the end of an era for the sport’s oldest active bowl: It was the final edition of the Rose Bowl guaranteed to feature its traditional matchup between Pac-12 and Big Ten teams.
The game will be a College Football Playoff semifinal next year, and the subsequent playoff expansion means the Rose Bowl won’t usually control which teams make the trip.
In contrast to several wild Rose Bowls in recent years, including the Utes’ 93-point epic with Ohio State a year ago, both teams traded touchdowns early in drives with several old-school aspects with deliberate use of the run game and solid defense. Singleton even scored the game’s first touchdown on a run out of a T formation.
Yassmin scored Utah’s first TD while filling in for tight end Dalton Kincaid, the Utes’ leading receiver. Kincaid sat out to preserve his health along with Utah’s leading rusher, Tavion Thomas, and first-team All-American cornerback Clark Phillips III.
Penn State answered with Clifford’s 10-yard TD pass to Mitchell Tinsley, but Utah evened it less than two minutes later on a 19-yard TD run by Jackson, making it 14-14 at halftime.
Singleton then made his 87-yard sprint early in the third quarter, surpassing 1,000 yards in his impressive freshman season along the way. Only Saquon Barkley‘s 92-yard run in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl was longer in the Nittany Lions’ lengthy bowl history.
The game began under cloudy skies after a week of uncharacteristically gray skies in Los Angeles, and in the third quarter, rain landed on the Rose Bowl Game for only the third time since 1955. The visiting fans from two hardy cities showed little concern about Southern California’s version of bad weather.
Penn State: Hosts West Virginia on Sept. 2.
Utah: Begins its quest for a third straight Pac-12 title by hosting Florida on Sept. 2.