Outside the Region Bowl Special: Tulane upsets USC with wild ending in Cotton Bowl, while Penn State dominates and takes Rose Bowl over Utah

Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) runs for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Outside the Region Bowl Special: Tulane upsets USC with wild ending in Cotton Bowl, while Penn State dominates and takes Rose Bowl over Utah


No. 16 Tulane 46, No. 10 USC 45

In what many view as a serious upset, Tulane wins the Cotton Bowl over USC in dramatic fashion. The Trojans were up by 15 with four and a half minutes to play, but the Green Wave went on a run taking advantage of USC’s late-game mistakes to win by one.

A muffed catch on a kickoff followed by a safety is what USC will remember about this game. Despite playing exceptionally well offensively, the Trojans made critical mistakes where they just could not. Statistically, USC put together a game that was representative of who they have been all season, and Caleb Williams was magnificent. They controlled time of possession by over 20 minutes, totaled 579 yards of total offense, and were up 15 late in the fourth quarter. Caleb Williams had one of his best games, completing 37-of-52 attempts for 462 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. This was his third game with five touchdown passes, his first since late October when he did it twice in a row against Utah and Arizona on the road. What is even more impressive about this is that he did it without top receiver Jordan Addison. Instead, he found comfort in the hands of Brenden Rice and Tahj Washington, whom each had over 100 yards receiving. With all of this positive on the offensive side, their defense collapsed, especially late in the game. They could not contain the run and allowed Tulane to march down the field in the game’s final minutes. There were a ton of highs to take away from Lincoln Riley’s first year at USC, but their biggest low was their defense, and it needs to be addressed if they want to compete for National Titles.

Tulane won this game off the back of their running game. Tyjae Spears was incredible in this game and showed just how crucial he is to this offense. Spears finished with 205 yards, and four touchdowns on 17 carries for the Green Wave. This is Spears’ eighth straight game with over 100 yards rushing and his third in the last four games with multiple rushing touchdowns. You could tell that Tulane was committed to running the football, and they wanted Michael Pratt’s arm to become secondary for this offense. Pratt found himself with 83 yards rushing on 15 carries as Tulane ran for 305 yards on the day as a team. Statistically, Tulane’s offense could not keep up with what USC was putting together, but they made the plays when it mattered, including the biggest play of the game; a six-yard touchdown pass from Pratt to tight end Alex Bauman tying the game with nine seconds to play. Pratt was not efficient with the football but made two huge plays to put Tulane in a position to win. Bauman’s late-game catch was one, and the other was an 87-yard touchdown pass to Jha’Quan Jackson in the second quarter in response to the two early USC scores. Tulane walks away from this season with victories in the AAC Championship and the Cotton Bowl under their belt. They end the season on the highest of highs, while the Trojans, with losses in both this game and the conference title game, will look to fix what went wrong.


No. 11 Penn State 35, No. 8 Utah 21

The final traditional Rose Bowl, as we know it, goes to the Penn State Nittany Lions as they take down the PAC-12 champion Utah Utes 35-21. It was a tale of two halves for both teams as Penn State took over in the second half after the game was tied at halftime.

Coming into the game, Penn State’s defense was among the best in the country, especially against the run. However, Penn State changed their tune in this one, as it was their pass defense that took control. Utah’s quarterbacks were feeling pressure all night and were sacked six times over the course of the game. With the pressure came strong play from the secondary as they intercepted Utah twice and held them to completing less than half of their pass attempts. As for the offense, quarterback Sean Clifford impressed in his final game. He completed 16-of-21 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He was outrageously efficient with the football and found comfort in the hands of receivers KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Mitchell Tinsley. Lambert-Smith led in yards with 124 yards and a score on three catches, while Tinsley led in catches pulling in six balls for 49 yards and a score. The big play element of Penn State’s offense was present in the game, where they saw two plays that went for 85+ yards. Lambert-Smith had an 88-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and running back Nick Singleton ran for an 87-yard touchdown in the third. He finished with 120 yards rushing with two touchdowns on just seven carries. Penn State was not in the same class as Michigan or Ohio State in the Big 10 this year, but they dominated a conference champion in the most prominent bowl game outside of the playoff. A great way to cap off a season.

Utah’s night fell apart after the injury to quarterback Cameron Rising in the third quarter. However, even before Rising’s injury, Utah was hard-pressed to find offense. Rising finished eight-of-21 for 95 yards and a touchdown with an interception. It was truly an impressive showing by Penn State’s defense holding a field general of Rising’s caliber to such an inefficient night. Bryson Barnes came in relief of Rising after the injury, and he had the same struggles. He completed 10-of-19 passes for 112 yards and a late-game touchdown with an interception. Despite controlling time of possession, Utah could not make the plays necessary to stay in the game. They were outscored 21-7 in the second half and only found the end zone once outside of the second quarter. We knew coming in that Utah’s offense was hit-or-miss, but with Rising’s injury, there was not much chance for a rebound after halftime. They walk away with a PAC-12 champion after beating the presumed favorites in the conference twice. Despite the Rose Bowl loss, Utah can call this a successful season.

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