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2008-2009 Rose Bowl Preview

#5 USC (11-1, 8-1 Pac-10) vs. #8 Penn State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten)

January 1, 2009 @ 4:30 PM (EST) – ABC – Pasadena, CA



USC Trojans - Pac-10 

2008 Record: 11-1, 8-1
Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Rose Bowl vs. Illinois (W 49-17)
Coach: Pete Carroll (87-15 at USC, 87-15 overall)
Bowl Record: 5-2 at USC, 5-2 overall
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Sarkisian
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Holt
Big Wins: 9/13 Ohio State (35-3), 10/4 Oregon (44-10)
Losses: 9/25 at Oregon State (21-27)


Statistical Leaders for the Trojans:

  • Rushing: Joe McKnight, RB, 646 yards

  • Passing: Mark Sanchez, QB, 2,794 yards

  • Receiving: Damian Williams, WR, 707 yards

  • Tackles: Rey Maualuga, LB, 73

  • Sacks: Kyle Moore, DE, 5.0

  • Interceptions: Drew McAllister, S, 3; Kevin Thomas, CB, 3

Sure, the Pac-10 was not strong this year and the Trojans faced Ohio State when the Buckeyes were without Beanie Wells and when Terrelle Pryor was just a change-of-pace quarterback, but USC has won week in and week out in very impressive fashion…except for the Oregon State game. Since the disheartening loss to the Beavers that ended up costing the Trojans a shot at the national championship, the Trojans have been focused and one of the better teams in the nation.


USC's Strengths:
And they may be the best team in the nation on the defensive side of the ball. The team has only given up 206 yards and a mere 7.8 points per game. In a conference known for its offensive prowess, those are some amazing numbers. Senior linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing are the leaders and both will be playing on Sundays this time next year. Mauluga is a superb all-around talent while Cushing does a great job getting into the backfield. Speaking of getting into the backfield, the Trojans defensive line will do plenty of that. The group lacks a superstar with huge numbers, but Clay Matthews, Kyle Moore, Fili Moala and Everson Griffen all have at least 4.5 sacks a piece and there is plenty of talent ready to come in and give the starters a break. With so much depth and talent, the USC front seven rarely gets tired and rarely gets beat. Once their opponents gave up on trying to run the ball, they were forced to throw against the nation’s best pass defense. Free safety Taylor Mays, yet another probable first round draft pick, will not make that easy to do.


Weaknesses for the Trojans:
It is hard to call an offense with so many weapons a weakness, but this is a unit that has been inconsistent all year long. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has a great arm, but he has strayed away from the system at times. Coach Pete Carroll usually needs Sanchez to make smart decisions and let the talent around him do the work. And that makes sense due to the fact that the only way the opposition can score any points is if the USC offense turns the ball over. The Trojans have a slew of young wide receivers that are still coming into their own. Damian Williams, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson are the best of the bunch and can make a big play every time they touch the ball. Like at wide receiver, the Trojans lack a go-to player at running back. C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight would all be starting on most other teams, but at USC they are all competing with each other for carries. It is certainly not a bad thing to have three great running backs, but it does lend itself to inconsistent play.


2008 USC Team Stats:

  • Rushing Offense: 206.00 (17th in nation, 2nd in Pac-10)

  • Passing Offense: 247.08 (31, 2)

  • Total Offense: 453.08 (14, 2)

  • Scoring Offense: 37.50 (14, 2)

  • Rushing Defense: 83.25 (5, 1)

  • Pass Defense: 122.83 (1, 1)

  • Total Defense: 206.08 (1, 1)

  • Scoring Defense: 7.75 (1, 1)Turnover Margin: .42 (34, 3)

  • Sacks: 2.33 (37, 5)

  • Sacks Allowed: 1.42 (31, 2)


Penn State Nittany Lions - Big Ten

2008 Record: 11-1, 7-1
Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Alamo Bowl vs. Texas A&M (W 24-17)
Coach: Joe Paterno (372-125-3 at Penn State, 372-125-3 overall)
Bowl Record: 23-10-1 at Penn State, 23-10-1 overall
Offensive Coordinator: Galen Hall
Defensive Coordinator: Tom Bradley
Big Wins: 10/25 at Ohio State (13-6), 11/22 Michigan State (49-18)
Losses: 11/8 at Iowa (23-24)


Statistical Leaders for the Nittany Lions:

  • Rushing: Evan Royster, RB, 1,202 yards

  • Passing: Daryll Clark, QB, 2,319 yards

  • Receiving: Deon Butler, WR, 713 yards

  • Tackles: Navorro Bowman, LB, 98

  • Sacks: Aaron Maybin, DE, 12.0

  • Interceptions: Lydell Sargeant, CB, 4

Penn State was a missed field goal away from being in the national championship game. The Rose Bowl is not a bad consolation prize for a team that many pegged to be the fourth best team in the conference before the season began, but the Nittany Lions could not help but be disappointed after losing to Iowa so late in the season. That disappointment only lasted about a half during the teams next game and Penn State closed strong by beating Indiana and annihilating a solid Michigan State team.


Penn State's Strengths:
Penn State did just about everything very well. They ranked in the top three in the Big Ten in nearly every major statistical category, but it all starts on the defensive side of the ball. The loss of linebacker Sean Lee before the season began was supposed to make the Nittany Lions defense a liability, but that did not happen. Instead, Navorro Bowman, Josh Hull and Tyrell Sales all stepped up and had great seasons in the middle of the defense. Bowman is the biggest surprise of them all. The sophomore led the team with 98 tackles and also tallied 3.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss. The emergence of defensive end Aaron Maybin has made the unit even better. The sophomore led the Big Ten in sacks with 12 and also tallied 19 tackles-for-loss. Even with the conference’s best defense, the Penn State offense has plenty of weapons. The offensive line, led by center A.Q. Shipley, has been dominating at times and back Evan Royster rushed for 1,202 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.


Weaknesses for Penn State:
Quarterback Daryll Clark has had a great year. He has thrown for 2,319 yards and 17 touchdowns and has only been picked off four times. He does what he needs to for PSU not to lose a game, but can he win a game if the Nittany Lions find themselves behind? Clark’s confidence has been an issue during the season, but that is not much of a concern anymore since he ended the regular season throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State. If Clark losses his confidence and Penn State falls behind early, it may be difficult for the team to catch up. The only concern on defense or special teams is giving up the big play. It is not a huge problem, but Penn State is susceptible to giving up big pass plays at inopportune times, most notably on third down. The defense is good enough to give up a big third down conversion and then get a stop later, but sooner or later that will come back to haunt the Nittany Lions. The big plays are not limited to defense however, and the special teams unit has given the opposition some solid field position by poor coverage on kickoffs and punts.


2008 Penn State Team Stats:

  • Rushing Offense: 211.58 (15th in nation, 2nd in Big Ten)

  • Passing Offense: 240.58 (35, 3)

  • Total Offense: 452.17 (15, 1)

  • Scoring Offense: 40.17 (11, 1)

  • Rushing Defense: 95.92 (8, 1)

  • Pass Defense: 168.00 (12, 2)

  • Total Defense: 263.92 (5, 1)

  • Scoring Defense: 12.42 (4, 1)

  • Turnover Margin: .75 (19, 3)

  • Sacks: 2.67 (18, 2)

  • Sacks Allowed: 1.00 (8, 1)


Rose Bowl Pick: USC 13 - Penn State 10


by Joel Welser Senior Staff Writer

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