PK: Same Rose Bowl Result For Utah Football Has To Sting Worse This Time
PASADENA, Calif. – The second time around was supposed to look different for the Utah football team, which still appreciated the right to play in the Rose Bowl but got no satisfaction from simply being in The Granddaddy.
A host of Utes sensed it, each noting the more serious tone that permeated practices and team events leading up to this year’s game against Penn State. The mantra extended through every media session with all the players and coaches.
Last season’s inaugural appearance was fun and all for the Utes, but the overall objective got buried a bit amidst the hoopla of making history as the program’s first team to win the Pac-12 championship. One thing stood in the way of making last year a complete success: The three-point loss in a shootout to Ohio State.
It stands to reason, then, the second time around with the same result has got to sting worse, as it should. Losing 35-21 before a crowd of 94,873 on Monday is far more bitter, even with greater justification for it.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you come to the Rose Bowl, if you don’t win it doesn’t mean much,” said receiver Devaughn Vele.
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Ohio State, even without two receivers who both sat out to protect each’s eventual NFL first-round draft status, was far more prodigious than this Penn State team. The Nittany Lions were good, no doubt worthy of a No. 11 national ranking but far from unbeatable.
Outside of beating eventual 9-win Minnesota, they lacked a marquee splash this season. They failed in the two most prominent chances, losing to playoff participants Michigan and Ohio State.
Utah, which entered the game ranked eighth, provided Penn State with the opportunity to gain a measure of respect. No matter the circumstances, the Nittany Lions still found what they were looking for.
Nobody outside of Utah will recall the particulars of the game, which saw quarterback Cam Rising exit in the third quarter after getting sandwiched by several tacklers on a scramble. With their undisputed leader done for the game and maybe his college career, the Utes fell apart on both sides of the football.
The team’s spirit, along with any chance of winning, went dead once Rising walked gingerly to the sidelines and then into the locker room. Backup quarterback Bryson Barnes had his moment in the lights last year in relief of an injured Rising late in the game, but Penn State’s defense wasn’t about to let the walk-on shine again.
“We lost a little bit of our mojo when it happened,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.
21-35 💔 Go Utes, forever and ever. We love our team through the highs and lows, and are proud of each one of our players and coaches. Thank you to our traveling fans and those who watched from afar ♥️ pic.twitter.com/RKSynq4Mvu
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) January 3, 2023
Utah’s defense also crashed, allowing two huge touchdown plays that put the game away. A tie game turned into a Penn State 14-point lead on Nicholas Singleton’s 87-yard run followed by Sean Clifford’s 88-yard pass to KeAndre Lambert-Smith.
From there, the only thing left was to watch the scoreboard game block dwindle away to the inevitable. Fully aware of the disappointment, much of crowd disappeared into the rainy night before the official end.
For the Utes, it was a wasted opportunity to add to the program’s legacy that includes winning the Fiesta and Sugar bowls. Unlike last year, they really had no chance.
The program’s philosophy of “next man up” only goes so far before smacking into a brick wall. Injuries eventually caught up to the Utes and went a long way toward the second bitter loss in the prestigious bowl game.
Besides Rising, whose injury Whittingham said could require a long recovery, Utah was without star tight ends Brandt Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid. To its credit, Penn State exploited the loss of star cornerback Clark Phillips, who opted out to prepare for the NFL draft.
“As disappointing as we are and as bitter as this is, still a lot to build on,” Whittingham said.
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