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Utah Football falls to Penn State in Rose Bowl

It was a battle between two top-15 ranked teams in the 109th Rose Bowl Game today, but big plays proved to be the difference in the game with No. 8 Utah Football falling to the No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions, 35-21.

The Utes finished the game with 391 yards of total offense, including 207 passing yards and 184 on the ground. Despite holding Penn State to just 14 first downs in the game, chunk plays would be a thorn in the Utes’ side with the Nittany Lions averaging 8.3 yards per play on offense, including 17.4 yards per completion.

Game leaders

After coming in during the third quarter for an injured Cameron Rising, quarterback Bryson Barnes finished the game 10-of-19 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown. Rising was also 8-of-21 for 95 yards and a touchdown, adding 10 rushes for 47 yards.

Ja’Quinden Jackson averaged 6.2 yards per carry on the ground, racking up 13 rushes for 81 yards and his ninth rushing touchdown of the season. Micah Bernard added 11 carries for 59 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

Through the air, Devaughn Vele recorded the first 100-yard receiving game of his career, notching exactly 100 yards on five catches (20.0 ypc) to push him over the 1,000 career receiving yards mark (1,096). Jaylen Dixon also finished with six receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, true freshman safety Sione Vaki led the team in tackles, producing eight solo stops. Mohamoud Diabate added six (1.0 TFL) with Cole Bishop also grabbing six total tackles. Karene Reid contributed four stops with two being for loss while Lander Barton had a career-high three tackles for loss among his four tackles.

First quarter breakdown

The Utes were unable to get going offensively in the first quarter, being held to just three first downs and 47 total yards while turning the ball over once. Despite the offensive struggles, Utah was able to keep the Nittany Lions out of the end zone until the final seven seconds of the quarter.

Penn State was able to convert on three of its five third down attempts on the drive, eventually scoring on a five-yard rushing touchdown to end the 12-play, 82-yard drive for the 7-0 lead.

Second quarter breakdown

Offensive productivity wasn’t an issue for either team in the second quarter with the teams heading into halftime all tied up 14-14.

Utah started the second quarter with the ball on its own 28-yard line, putting together a gritty 75-yard drive to even things up with 7:55 on the clock. Rising would keep the drive alive twice with third and fourth down rushing conversions before linking up with Thomas Yassmin in the corner of the end zone for a one-yard passing play to make it 7-7.

Penn State would have an answer, scoring with 4:47 remaining in the quarter on a 10-yard reception on the backend of a 70-yard drive to regain the lead. Utah didn’t falter though, starting its next scoring drive on its own 25-yard line.

With under five minutes to play, Rising connected with Vele for a 47-yard pass on a third-and-10 to keep the drive alive, putting the ball into Jackson’s hands at the end of the drive for a 19-yard, tackle-breaking rushing touchdown to tie things up 14-14 at halftime.

Third quarter breakdown

The back-and-forth continued into the third quarter with Penn State scoring on an 87-yard rushing touchdown with 9:25 on the clock to give them a 21-14 advantage.

Rising left the game with an injury just a few plays later with Barnes taking over with under nine minutes to go in the quarter. Utah’s offense would finish the quarter with 108 yards of total offense, but Penn State would record 105 while averaging 13.1 yards per play.

Fourth quarter breakdown 

Big plays continued to be a thorn in Utah’s side with Penn State scoring on another 80+ yard play, starting the fourth quarter with an 88-yard passing play to take a two-possession lead. The Utes continued to struggle to contain the Nittany Lions with Penn State scoring on its next drive, taking a 34-14 lead with a one-yard rushing touchdown.

Utah would find the end zone in the final minute of the game on a five-yard passing touchdown between Barnes and Dixon to make it 35-21, but with just 25 seconds left in the game, it wouldn’t be enough time for the Utes to complete a comeback.

Utah finished the season 10-4 overall this year, its seventh 10-win season under head coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes’ ninth consecutive year of winning seasons under his direction. The back-to-back Pac-12 Champions also became just the third team in conference history to win back-to-back championship games.