The 2023 Rose Bowl between Penn State and Utah was a close affair with the two sides tied at 14 heading into halftime.
That’s when things went terribly wrong for the Utes with starting quarterback Cameron Rising exiting due to a knee injury. Penn State took full advantage of this, scoring 21 consecutive points before a garbage-time touchdown by Utah. That included freshman Nicholas Singleton doing his thing on the ground.
Closing his college career, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford might have put up the best bowl performance for a quarterback in program history.
The end result from Pasadena was a 35-21 Penn State win for its second ever Rose Bowl victory. James Franklin’s squad also finishes up the season with 11 wins while Utah fell to 10-4 with its fourth consecutive bowl loss.
Below, we look at the five biggest winners and losers from Penn State’s dominating 14-point victory over Utah.
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Winner: Nicholas Singleton, running back, Penn State
There’s a reason why Singleton was a four-star recruit in the class of 2022. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound back showed out at times during the regular season. That included a 179-yard outing against Ohio in just his second college game back on September 10 and putting up 122 yards in a win over Maryland in November.
Sharing duties with Kaytron Allen in the Rose Bowl Monday afternoon, Singleton put up a game-changing play in the third quarter. Penn State found itself tied at 14 and took over at its own five-yard line. After a couple Sean Clifford passes got the team to its own 13, Singleton did the rest.
Yes, that’s an 87-yard house call from Singletary. It also came after he opened the scoring in the first quarter with a five-yard touchdown run. All said, Singleton went for 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just seven attempts in another brilliant performance.
Moving forward into next season, it would not be a surprise if Singleton is on many Heisman watch lists. The stud running back finishes his freshman season with 1,061 rushing yards while averaging 6.8 yards per tote. That seems pretty good.
Loser: Cameron Rising, quarterback, Utah
Prior to exiting in the third quarter of this one, Rising was struggling to connect with his pass-catchers in the Rose Bowl. It was going to be a tough task with leading receiver Dalton Kincaid out of action due to injury. But there’s only so many excuses that can go around.
Rising completed 8-of-21 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception before exiting. It’s a disappointing end to a season in which Rising picked up offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system and ran with it. Remember, Rising entered the Rose Bowl having put up six touchdown passes against zero interceptions in his previous two games. Even more disappointing is the fact that Rising had to exit his second consecutive Rose Bowl due to an injury.
Winner: Ji’ayir Brown, safety, Penn State
Brown doesn’t get talked about a lot in the Nittany Lions’ secondary due to the presence of likely first-round pick Joey Porter Jr. at cornerback. In no way does this mean that the 5-foot-11 safety has not been a ball hawk during his time at Happy Valley.
Over the course of the past two seasons, the New Jersey native has registered a whopping nine interceptions to go with 139 tackles. He was back up to his old tricks against Utah on Monday, picking off backup Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes.
There’s so much to like about this play from Brown. He did a great job providing additional help from the center field spot before reading where Barnes was going and making a great play on the ball. You simply can’t teach that type of range. With Penn State up just seven and Utah boasting the ball in plus-territory, he made an absolutely huge play.
Loser: Kyle Whittingham’s bowl struggles continues for Utah
Once Whittingham took over for Urban Meyer as Utah’s head coach to conclude the 2004 season, he started off a run of six consecutive bowl wins for the program. In fact, Utah was 10-1 in its first 11 bowl appearances under Whittingham.
It’s been completely downhill since. By virtue of Monday’s loss, the Utes have fallen in four consecutive bowl outings under this highly-respected head coach. This also represented the program’s second consecutive defeat in the Rose Bowl, creating questions about Utah’s ability to go up against the big boys in the nation.
Beating USC in the Pac 12 Championship Game is one thing. Taking out a national powerhouse from the Big 10 in the The Granddaddy of Them All is another thing altogether.
Winner: Sean Clifford ends Penn State career on a high note
It has not always been pretty for Clifford during his six years working under James Franklin with the Nittany Lions. The two struggled during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, only to finish 7-6 in 2021. As for the 2022 campaign, Clifford finished the regular season with 27 total touchdowns and seven interceptions en route to leading Penn State to a 10-2 record.
Clifford finished up shop on his college career with a brilliant performance as the Nittany Lions won just their second Rose Bowl in program history. With his team up 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Clifford hit KeAndre Lambert-Smith on an 88-yard touchdown to double up Utah.
There was definitely some blown coverage on the part of Utah. But Clifford did a tremendous job to recognize the open guy and get the ball out there in short order. With Penn State facing a backup qurterback, that was pretty much the death knell for Utah as the Nittany Lions earned an 11-win season for the fourth time under Franklin. A lot of that had to do with Clifford completing 16-of-21 passes for 279 yards in his final college outing. What a way to go out.