Keary Colbert's one-handed catch is a rare Rose Bowl link for the current USC team

Keary Colbert's one-handed catch is a rare Rose Bowl link for the current USC team
Keary Colbert makes a one-handed catch against Michigan defensive back Jeremy LeSueur to score a touchdown in the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, 2004. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)

Coach Clay Helton has already picked out what video he will cue up when USC meets as a team for the last time before the Rose Bowl.

It's from the 2004 Rose Bowl. A Michigan defensive back is draped around the left arm of a receiver. The receiver plucks the ball out of the air with his right hand, high steps out of a tackle and swaggers into the end zone.


"They give me a hard time about it sometimes," USC graduate assistant Keary Colbert, who made the catch, says about the current Trojans.

By its own lofty standards, USC has gone a long time since its last Rose Bowl appearance in 2009. That tied the Trojans' longest Rose Bowl drought and has left USC in an unusual situation: Colbert is one of only two members of the team, players or coaches, that have participated in a Rose Bowl.

Defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze, who played with Colbert in the 2004 game, is the other. Udeze said some of USC's defensive linemen have asked him about what to expect.

"I said you guys are going to remember certain things about the Rose Bowl," he said. "The morning you wake up. The pregame, the flyover. You're going to remember, more than anything, at the end when the clock is winding down, whether you've executed and you've done your job."

He said the game was the best he ever played in, in college or the NFL, "not even close."

Helton said he wanted the team to see Colbert's play as an example of "how the brightest players show up in these type of games."

Colbert said he was excited to be back in the Rose Bowl and was eager to see what the Trojans would do.

"So when we look back 10, 15 years from now, we can see their highlights on the screen," he said.

Warning to arrive early

Rose Bowl officials are advising spectators to arrive early and enter the stadium gates no later than 1 p.m. because of the time required for security measures.

To that end, the stadium is hosting a free fanfest for ticketed patrons in a secured area adjacent to the stadium featuring interactive activities and big-screen TVs showing other bowl games. Any attendee who passes through fanfest security is cleared to enter the stadium.

"People coming to the game should plan as if they were going to the airport to catch a plane," Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn said. "When you go to the airport, you want to get to your gate and get settled at least an hour before your plane leaves. We strongly encourage fans to adhere to those guidelines."

There is a clear-bag policy in effect for the Rose Bowl game, meaning spectators are permitted to bring a 12-by-6-by-12-inch clear plastic bag, a single one-gallon plastic freezer bag, or a clutch no larger than 4.5 by 6.5 inches.

The parking lots adjacent to the Rose Bowl open at 4 a.m.


A long-ago promise

When Penn State safety Malik Golden watched his favorite team, USC, defeat Penn State by two touchdowns in the 2009 Rose Bowl game, he made a pledge.

"If you really want to know the truth, I promised myself I'd never come to Penn State," the fifth-year senior from Connecticut said.

The promise quickly faded when Penn State offered a scholarship two years later.

Punting is winning

Penn State's punt returner, John Reid, averages 7.55 yards per return. Were he to have a return of that length — were he to have a return at all against USC — it would be somewhat astonishing.

USC has allowed only seven punts to be returned all season, for a total of 32 yards.

For perspective, opposing teams have made avoiding USC returner Adoree' Jackson a focal point of their game plans, and Jackson has still returned 19 punts for 302 yards.

Chris Tilbey's punts can look ugly, often low line drives or bouncing balls, and his has average of 37.8 yards per punt ranks 119th in the country. But special-teams coach John Baxter said they serve a purpose.

"The best way to look at it is like baseball," Baxter said. "If we're going to put on a defensive shift, the pitcher has to pitch where he's supposed to pitch."

A favorable comparison

Penn State Coach James Franklin drew a favorable comparison between USC quarterback Sam Darnold and Aaron Rodgers, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.

"He's not one of them old-school, pro-style quarterbacks that just stand in the pocket and can't move," Franklin said of Darnold.

Franklin, who coached wide receivers for the Packers in 2005, the rookie season for Rodgers, said that type of mobility is needed in today's game.

For a comparison to Darnold, he said, "you look at the Aaron Rodgers of the world."

USC-Penn State connections

USC and Penn State are separated by about 2,500 miles, but there are plenty of links between the programs.

LaVar Arrington, the former standout linebacker at Penn State, is USC freshman Oluwole Betiku Jr.'s guardian.

Penn State's Koa Farmer and USC's Kevin Carrasco were teammates for one season at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High.

Tommie Robinson, USC's running backs coach, is the cousin of Penn State's Christian Campbell.

And Helton coached at Memphis with Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry from 2007 to 2009.

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