No. 9 Penn State goes in to its Rose Bowl matchup with No. 7 Utah as 1.5-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
On paper, Penn State and Utah are similar.
Both like to run the ball and play great defense.
This is probably the first game all season besides its Week 1 matchup at Purdue in which I can’t predict a definitive winner.
Utah is looking to make amends for its 48-45 loss last year to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Penn State will be looking for its first win against an AP Top 10 opponent since 2016. Both teams have a lot to prove. Here are three keys to Penn State getting its long-coveted signature win.
RUN THE BALL, STOP THE RUN
Utah is the rare Pac-12 team that plays power football and makes no bones about it. Penn State is playing against its best opposing offensive line since playing Michigan Oct. 15. Utah has five runners averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Tavion Thomas, Micah Bernard, Ja’Quinden Jackson. Cam Rising, and Jalon Glover all share responsibilities running the ball for the Utes. Penn State needs to establish the line of scrimmage in the running game and the X-factor on Penn State’s defense is linebacker Kobe King. King can be spectacular like he has been late in the season, but he can struggle at times, as he did in the Michigan and Ohio State losses. On the other side of the ball, Utah has the number one run defense in the Pac-12, but no one runs the ball consistently in the Pac-12 besides Utah. Penn State will pose the best test to the Utes’ run defense all season long. If LT Olu Fashanu plays, then that will be a good boost to Penn State’s running game.
OPEN UP THE PASSING GAME
All-American cornerback Clark Phillips will not be playing as he will be preparing for the NFL Draft. Penn State needs to exploit its matchup with Mitchell Tinsley, Keandre Lambert-Smith, and Trey Wallace. There will be more opportunities than usual for Sean Clifford to get open throws on a vulnerable Utah defense playing without its best defensive player. This will be Clifford’s last game at Penn State so why not throw caution to the wind and take advantage of a weakened secondary? He will surely use his tight ends first but taking shots down the field is key in this matchup as Utah gave up a lot of big plays in the Pac-12 Championship Game while Caleb Williams was on the field.
Make Cam Rising beat them in the passing game
Rising, much like Clifford is a polarizing figure around the Utah fanbase. He does well against inferior competition, but against good to elite defenses like Penn State’s, he seems to struggle. Penn State’s best chance is to try to make Rising, who is a good passer, but a better runner, beat them with his arm and not his legs. Rising will be facing the best secondary that he has played all year, and the biggest mismatch on paper in this game is Penn State’s secondary against Utah’s wide receivers. If Penn State can make plays in space especially when Rising goes off script, then they will have an easier time handling Utah’s offense.