USC tailback Stafon Johnson said after Thursday’s 38-24 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State that he would return to the Trojans next season.
Johnson, a junior who rushed for a team-best 63 yards in 15 carries, applied for a draft projection from the NFL but said, “I got to come back here and win” a national title.
Fellow tailback C.J. Gable is not quite as sure. The third-year sophomore said he “might do something else” -- even though he did not request a draft projection. Asked whether he meant he might transfer, Gable said, “I don’t know.”
Gable had eight carries for 13 yards and scored on a 20-yard second-quarter touchdown pass but did not play at running back after fumbling in the third quarter.
Pick ‘n’ save
Will Harris made the key defensive play, intercepting a fourth-quarter pass after the Nittany Lions had cut the Trojans’ lead to 38-24 with 4 minutes 24 seconds left.
Harris, who had six tackles and also recovered a fumble, was aided by defensive end Clay Matthews, who slammed into Penn State’s Daryll Clark as he let go of the ball.
“I was hoping he still had the ball so I could get a sack, to be honest,” Matthews said. “But then when I heard the fans erupt I knew something big had happened so it all worked out.”
The last three Rose Bowl defensive most valuable players are USC starting senior linebackers. Brian Cushing won in 2007, Rey Maualuga in 2008 and Kaluka Maiava made four solo tackles, broke up two passes and won this year.
USC tailback Joe McKnight left the game in the second quarter because of an injured toe on his left foot and did not return.
Evan Royster, Penn State’s top rusher this season, was also forced to leave the game after an undisclosed injury to his left knee on the Nittany Lions’ first-quarter scoring drive. Stephfon Green took over the workload, finishing with 57 yards in 10 carries and five catches for 67 yards before leaving in the fourth quarter because of a sprained right ankle.
The Pacific 10 Conference scored victories in the Rose, Holiday (Oregon), Sun (Oregon State), Emerald (California) and Las Vegas (Arizona) bowls. Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen said rating leagues by their bowl performances can be misleading, but it has become a measuring stick to fans and cable networks.
“Whether it’s valid or not, it’s important,” Hansen said of bowl records. “Because they run that [on television] over and over and over.”
Mark Sanchez finished the season with 34 scoring passes, second in school history behind Matt Leinart’s 38 in 2003. Sanchez’s 413 passing yards Thursday rank fourth in Trojans history and are the highest since Carson Palmer threw for 425 against Notre Dame in 2002. . . .
USC’s Damian Williams had 10 catches for 162 yards, both team single-game highs this season. The yardage was seventh-most in a Rose Bowl game. The receptions tied for seventh. . . .
Penn State’s Clark established school bowl-game records with 273 passing yards and 290 total yards, and his 21 completions equaled that record. . . .
USC has played in a record 33 Rose Bowls, winning 24, making the Trojans first in that category. Michigan is second with eight wins, against 12 losses. . . . The Pacific 10 Conference has five consecutive victories over the Big Ten. The Pac-10 is 46-42-3 in Rose Bowl games. The Big Ten is 29-33.
Times staff writers Gary Klein, Mark Medina, Chris Dufresne and Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.