2009 Rose Bowl Preview - USC vs. Penn State
Penn State's Derrick Williams & USC's Taylor Mays
Penn State's Derrick Williams & USC's Taylor Mays
Posted Dec 30, 2008

It's the battle of the top defenses. Can Derrick Williams and Penn State finally break USC's hex on the Big Ten? Can the Trojans win impressively and make a case to have the greatest defense of all-time? Check out the CFN 2009 Rose Bowl Preview & Prediction.

2009 Rose Bowl

USC (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1)

Jan. 1, 5:00 p.m. ET, ABC

$14 million   Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena CA

National Rankings
USC Penn State
Total Offense
13th  453.08 ypg 14th  452. 17 ypg
Total Defense
1st  206.08 ypg 5th  263.92 ypg
Scoring Offense
13th  453.08 ppg 11th  40.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
1st  7.75 ppg 3rd  12.42 ppg
Run Offense
17th  206 ypg 13th  211.58 ypg
Run Defense
5th  83.25 ypg 9th  95.92 ypg
Pass Offense
32nd  247.08 ypg 38th  240.58 ypg
Pass Defense
1st  122.83 ypg 12th  168 ypg
Turnover Margin
34th  0.42 19th  0.75
at Virginia W 52-7
Ohio St W 35-7
at Oreg. St L 27-21
Oregon W 44-10
Arizona St W 28-0
at Wash St W 69-0
at Arizona W 17-10
Washington W 56-0
California W 17-3
at Stanford W 45-23
Notre Dame W 38-3
at UCLA W 28-7
Penn State
C. Carolina W 66-10
Oregon St W 45-14
at Syracuse W 55-13
Temple W 45-3
Illinois W 38-24
at Purdue W 20-6
at Wisconsin W 48-7
Michigan W 46-17
at Ohio St W 13-6
at Iowa L 24-23
Indiana W 38-7
Michigan St W 49-18
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USC 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 4.5
4.5 RBs 5
3.5 Receivers 5
4 O Line 5
5 D Line 5
5 Linebackers 4.5
5 Secondary 5
5 Spec Teams 5
5 Coaching 5

- 2009 Rose Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

Enough of this Illinois B.S. Enough of the Big Ten’s second place team, or Texas, or Nebraska, or Oklahoma. This is the Big Ten champion vs. the Pac 10 champion for the Rose Bowl. This is New Year’s Day.

Forget about the big-time shootouts. Forget about the impressive offensive performances the Rose Bowl has seen over the past decade from legends like Dayne, and Vince, and Leinart. This is for the fans of defense and it’ll be a stunner if this isn’t a knock-down, drag-out war for sixty minutes.
The world is assuming USC will show up and win this thing in a walk. After all, USC owns the Rose Bowl, as the Rose Bowl, winning three of the last five with the one bowl loss in Pasadena under Pete Carroll coming in the BCS Championship to Texas three years ago. But Penn State isn’t an upstart Illinois.

The Nittany Lions have won four of their last five bowl games, nine of their last 11, and under Joe Paterno, they’ve gone 8-2 all time in bowls now in the BCS. For all the talk about age, hip replacements, and contracts, the simple fact remains that his team is 11-1 and came within a heartbeat of playing for the national title. This is one of the best defenses he and his staff have ever put together, it’s the best wide receiving corps, one of the best offensive lines, and the backfield has tremendous speed at running back and a senior leader in QB Daryll Clark. And now all the talent and all the experience will be put to the ultimate test against arguably the greatest defense in the history of the Pac 10. 
Is USC’s defense really that good or did the Pac 10 colossally stink? It was a little of both, but the numbers, considering the Trojans play in a BCS conference and faced Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame in the non-conference slate, are still dizzying.

206 yards per game. 7.75 points per game allowing a touchdown or less in eight of the 12 games. Four touchdown passes allowed, 123 passing yards allowed per game, 83 rushing yards allowed per game, 26.6% of third down conversions allowed, 11 total touchdowns allowed, and it goes on and on and on. But now the Trojans will face a real team with a real offense.
USC got Oregon early on when it was still trying to figure out its quarterbacking mess. It got Ohio State without Beanie Wells and with Todd Boeckman at quarterback. It got to fatten up the stats against Washington, Washington State and UCLA, and gave up decent yards and more than 20 points (even if the final Cardinal touchdown was pure garbage time padding) twice … just as many times as Penn State. But the D really is that good with a who’s who of future NFL starters across the starting 11. And now Penn State has to prove it can get the offense working against the ultra-athletic, ultra-talented brick wall.
Penn State might have led the Big Ten in every important offensive category but pass defense (it finished third averaging a respectable 241 yards per game), but it was held to 13 in a slugfest win at Ohio State, struggled late in the loss at Iowa, and was one of the only teams with a pulse that had a hard time scoring on Purdue. While USC might have had a who’s who of big-name cream-puff offenses on the slate, Penn State got to fatten up on Temple, a lifeless Wisconsin, Indiana, Syracuse, Michigan, and Coastal Carolina. The Nittany Lions did blast the same Oregon State teams 45-14 that beat USC, and they rolled against a solid Michigan State defense in the regular season finale, but if they thought the trips to Iowa City and Columbus were a problem, that’s nothing compared to the jacked up firestorm they’re about to run into.

The conventional storyline is that the Big Ten needs this game to prove it’s on par with the biggest of the big boys. After all, the Rose Bowl hasn’t been kind to the Big Ten that hasn’t won since Wisconsin’s 2000 game against Stanford. But again, this is a different Big Ten team and a different year. Penn State and USC are two teams that think they should’ve been just as much a part of the national title discussion as all the one-loss teams from the Big 12 South and Florida, and they’re each looking to show why there needs to be a playoff of some sort.

If either team wins impressively, then the storyline will be how everyone would love to see what the victor could’ve done against the BCS champion. If this turns out to be the tough defensive battle expected, then everyone will be wondering how the winning defense would’ve done against any of the BCS teams with high-powered offenses like Texas, Oklahoma or Florida. No matter what happens, this should be a heavyweight showdown that’ll make you love the Rose Bowl again.
Players to watch: The USC defense has a dizzying array of stars, with linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, and safety Taylor Mays, all expected to go in the top 20 of the 2009 NFL Draft, but it’s Fili Moala who’s the unsung anchor that everything revolves around. While the stats aren’t anything impressive, they don’t come close to showing his worth as an athletic 6-5, 300-pound block of granite who requires double and triple teaming on every play. With no one being able to run up the middle, the star linebackers are able to roam free and make plays.
Also coming in under the radar compared to the mega-watt linebacking stars on the other side of the ball is Novorro Bowman, Penn State’s leading tackler with 98 stops on the year and 11.5 tackles for loss. After getting suspended this off-season, he started out camp as a backup who was going to find a spot somewhere, and then the 6-1, 230-pound sophomore dominated. As fast as any of the USC starts, Bowman is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who has the potential to upstage Maualuga and Cushing.
Up front for the Nittany Lions, and needing to play a huge role, is sophomore end Aaron Maybin, who might not be the big pass rusher the defense usually cranks out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. More of a bulked up linebacker on the edge, Maybin is a rangy 6-4, 240-pound speed rusher who showed flashes as a freshman, and came through with an All-Big Ten 2008 with 12 sacks, 45 tackles and 19 tackles for loss. He slowed down over the second half of the season after ripping off 11 sacks in the first nine games, but that’s because everyone started to double and triple team him. USC will have to do the same.

Hoping to not be up close and personal with Maybin is Mark Sanchez, the solid junior quarterback who has been a fiery leader and a steady producer, but he hasn’t been spectacular despite throwing 30 touchdown passes and ten interceptions. He able to press a little bit, knowing his defense will clean up any mess, but he’ll have to be more careful with the ball against a Penn State defense that can change the course of the game with one big play. USC quarterbacks are measured by what they do in January, and if USC loses this game, Sanchez will likely end up shouldering much of the blame.
Penn State will win if... the offense comes out and punches USC dead in the mouth. Lost in the 35-3 final score in the USC win over Ohio State was how the Buckeyes were able to move the ball in the first half. It was actually a close game until Maualuga came up with a pick six late in the first half, but the need to throw partially stemmed from OSU’s inability to run the ball with any power. Not having Beanie was a big part of the problem, but the offensive line was the bigger issue. That’s not going to be an issue for the Penn State offensive line that’s better than anything USC has seen this year, and that includes its own practices. How do you beat a bully? You come out and show no fear and you get physical, and that’s what Penn State has to do. The Nittany Lions have an ultra-efficient passing game, and Clark will have to hit his third down passes, but the running game that cranked out 212 yards per game has to take control of the game from the start.
USC will win if
... Daryll Clark has to win the game. Clark had a fantastic season completing 60% of his throws for 2,319 yards and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions, while adding a running element with 265 yards and nine scores. However, he has never gotten the job done in the fourth quarter. He was knocked out of the Ohio State game, and it was Pat Devlin who led the way to the final scoring drive. He failed late against Iowa, finishing with just 83 yards and an interception that led to the game-winning Hawkeye drive, on just 9-of-23 passing. USC is more than happy to see Clark try to run the ball, and it’ll take its chances against the Penn State passing game that might feature a superstar in Derrick Williams, but will have problems coming up with the deep plays.
What will happen: USC will be in for a dogfight. Both teams will be pumped up, both will get big defensive performances early on, and neither offense will be able to establish anything. USC will be able to do a bit more than Penn State, and then the Nittany Lions will get a spark from a big punt return from Williams. It won’t be enough. Clark will be under 50% passing, he’ll make two big mistakes, and USC will capitalize. This won’t be a pretty game, but it’ll be nip and tuck the whole way.

Line: USC -10 ... CFN Prediction: USC 17 … Penn State 13      

- 2009 Rose Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More