Utah Football Can’t Find a Spark in Rose Bowl Loss to Penn State


Jack Gambassi

Utah linebacker Karene Reid (#21) after making a tackle in the Rose Bowl Game versus Penn State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on Jan. 2, 2023. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


The University of Utah football team lost their second consecutive Rose Bowl on Monday, finishing off a roller coaster of a season that included a Pac-12 Title. The Utes played tough in the first half, but fell apart in the second as the Penn State Nittany Lions torched them for two long touchdowns en route to a 35-21 victory.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford played a great first half, leading the Nittany Lions on two scoring drives that made the Utah defense look foolish. Clifford escaped pressure on a few third-and-long attempts to make the Utes pay for not bringing him down, and that was what allowed Penn State to play from ahead in the first half. 

Utah had two strong scoring drives of their own, responding to the deficit in admirable fashion. The run game got going with Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson both looking spry. The play of the half was a 47-yard bomb from Rising to Devaughn Vele on third-and-10 to set up the tying touchdown.

Nicholas Singleton torched the Utes with an 87-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Singleton had a great day overall, as the Utes were not as sharp as they needed to be on their run coverage.

Rising suffered an apparent knee injury in the third quarter, forcing him out of the game. He was able to walk off the field with help from the training staff and went to the medical tent and then the locker room. Bryson Barnes was again called upon in the Rose Bowl to lead the Utes to victory.

Another broken play to begin the fourth quarter resulted in an 88-yard touchdown from Clifford to KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The score put the Nittany Lions up 28-14, and with Rising out of the game, hope was waning that Utah would be able to hang in the game. 

Following a three-and-out offensive possession and a bad punt, the Nittany Lions took it right down the field and scored another touchdown via a short drive. That put Penn State up 35-14 and was the end of the Utes’ hopes at a Rose Bowl revenge tour.

“Doesn’t matter how many times you come to the Rose Bowl if you don’t win one,” Vele said. “We’re just going to get back to the drawing board and start preparing for next season.”

Utah heads to the offseason after a year that’s hard to put into words. They looked incredible on multiple occasions, none more so than the two victories over USC, one of which handed them the Pac-12 Championship. Still, this Utes roster had more than its fair share of stinkers, including a loss at Florida that looked worse by the week, a tough afternoon against UCLA at this same stadium, and a game at Oregon where they couldn’t quite get over the hump. They were thoroughly outplayed by Penn State at the Rose Bowl, which is a rare thing to say for this program. Despite all the talk this week about how the Utes meant business, they simply failed to play their best football in the last game of the year.

This marks four straight losses for the Utes in bowl games. They haven’t won one since 2017. 

The program heads to the offseason with a lot of turnover on deck. Rising’s status for next season is uncertain, as he may opt for the NFL or decide to run it back for one more season. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said earlier in the week that most of Utah’s underclassmen have decided to come back next year.

Regardless, Utah needs help at receiver and defensive back. Clark Phillips III’s absence from this game was glaring, as was the need for a true #1 pass catching threat in a game without Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe. They’ll hit the transfer portal and hope to get some help from inside the program.

The pro-Utes crowd went home from Pasadena sullen for the second straight season, this year without even a competitive game to fall back on. Still, these Utes will likely be back, regardless of how the Rose Bowl looks in the future due to the changing world of college football.

“We just have to keep coming back to this game until we get it right,” Whittingham said. “Whatever New Year’s Six bowl we can get back to, we’ve gotta figure it out.”


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