Utah enjoyed its first-ever Rose Bowl appearance for most of last year’s game but arrives back in Pasadena, Calif., adorned with the unfinished-business label.
The Utes fell to Ohio State on a late field goal last year, and now No. 8 Utah will compete against another Big Ten powerhouse program on Monday when it faces No. 11 Penn State at the famed stadium below the San Gabriel Mountains.
It has been a recurring theme for the Utes (10-3) when they discuss being in the Rose Bowl for the second straight season.
Utah never trailed over the first 55-plus minutes of the 48-45 loss to the Buckeyes and sustained a tough blow when standout quarterback Cam Rising exited due to a head injury early in the fourth quarter.
Rising, who played high school football 50 miles to the west in Newbury Park, Calif., is excited about having a second opportunity to play in “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
“It just means the world,” said Rising, who has passed for 2,939 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. “To go back to the Rose Bowl again, it just means there’s unfinished business that we want to go out there and finish.”
Despite last year’s loss, the Utes have an 11-4 bowl record under coach Kyle Whittingham.
And Whittingham sees returning to the scene and knowing the pageantry and buildup to game day being something that is immensely valuable.
“I think that’s always a positive thing,” Whittingham said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything. It doesn’t mean you’re going to play great or anything like that. But it does give you a reference point and some opportunity to learn from what you did well or didn’t do so well in last year’s preparation and apply it this year for the better.”
The Utes have won six of their past seven games, including two victories over Southern California. The second one was a 47-24 whipping in the Pac-12 title game at Las Vegas.
Utah All-America cornerback Clark Phillips entered the bowl season tied for second nationally with six interceptions.
Penn State (10-2) enters with four straight victories, and its losses were to two of the four College Football Playoff participants: No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State.
Nittany Lions coach James Franklin is preparing for a tough task, as he is having trouble identifying weaknesses in the Utes.
“If you’re a true football guy, if you watch them, that’s what a true football team is supposed to be like,” Franklin said ahead of the first-ever meeting between the programs.
The contest is the final one for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who is in his sixth season with the program. Clifford passed for 2,543 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the 2022 regular season.
The Nittany Lions saw star cornerback Joey Porter Jr. opt out of the Rose Bowl and declare for the draft. Receiver Parker Washington, who would have missed the Rose Bowl due to a leg injury, also declared for the draft.
Star left tackle Olu Fashanu is bypassing the draft and returning for the 2023 season, but he hadn’t decided whether he would play in the Rose Bowl. Center Juice Scruggs and defensive end Nick Tarburton both declared for the draft but will play in the game.
Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher was one of the Penn State players who elected not to opt out of the Rose Bowl.
“We don’t have a lot of opt-outs, and I think it’s just the magnitude of the game,” Mustipher said. “We haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 2016, so it’s not easy to do, and I think guys want to experience what it’s like to go to a Rose Bowl, what it’s like to win a Rose Bowl and all that kind of stuff.”
Penn State, which has lost three of four previous Rose Bowls, has just two wins in its past six bowl games.
–Field Level Media