USC Sports

Rose Bowl game will be traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten. The offenses didn’t get the memo

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (26) makes a 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship game.
(AJ Mast / Associated Press)

Monday’s Rose Bowl will be as it almost always has been. Parade goers will settle in to watch a Pac-12 Conference team play one from the Big Ten Conference. There will be, as usual, an efficient offense behind a line of prodigious size. The other team will offer a familiar contrast, a speedy spread capable of shredding a defense on one big play.

The only difference is which team is which.

“I don’t think it’s the proverbial slow Big Ten versus fast Pac-12 matchup,” USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “These guys are very athletic, they’re fast, they have size.”

USC and Penn State have flipped the Rose Bowl archetypes. Penn State abandoned three yards and a cloud of dust for great big chunks of yardage, run out of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense.


“You’d think they were a Pac-12 team,” linebacker Michael Hutchings said. “Just with a little bit more explosion, honestly.”

Penn State’s offense ranked fifth nationally in explosiveness, according to It ranked only 82nd in efficiency.

The dynamic was flipped for the Trojans, who still have the athletes that have come to define their program but whose offensive footprint veers closer to the typical Big Ten style: methodical, balanced and efficient. USC ranked only 84th in explosiveness, but 10th in efficiency.

Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu compared Penn State’s offense to last season’s Oregon team, which scored 48 points against USC.


But the familiarity, Coach Clay Helton said, is comforting.

“It’s something that we see on a weekly basis in the Pac-12,” Helton said. “It gives you a little bit better sleep at night. The thing you’re scared about is the amount of athletes that they have on the field.”

Much of Penn State’s offensive regulars would not seem out of place on a Pac-12 team. Quarterback Trace McSorley can be a dangerous runner. Running back Saquon Barkley, at 223 pounds, ran the team’s fastest 40-yard-dash time in the spring.

Defensively, Penn State has had mixed results against speedier teams.


Penn State cornerback John Reid said USC’s offense was, “a little bit of Ohio State, a little bit of Indiana.”

Indiana put up 31 points in a loss to Penn State. Ohio State managed only 21 — half its season average — in Penn State’s upset victory.

The Big Ten’s reluctance to move toward the spread was a boon for its Rose Bowl foes. Pac-12 teams are 6-2 against the Big Ten in the last 10 Rose Bowl games. Ohio State, a spread adopter that defeated Oregon and Michigan State, which defeated power-oriented Stanford, were the lone exceptions.

But, Barkley said, “That reputation of the Big Ten not being fast, I think that’s in the past. Especially for our team.”


Under the weather

The Nittany Lions, whose campus has had snow and temperatures have dipped into the teens this month, probably had little sympathy for Helton’s hoarse voice Saturday.

“We’ve had a little bit of a wet winter here in L.A.,” Helton said.

This was to say: USC has a cold.


Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster wore a coat indoors Friday after coming down with a fever Thursday. Helton said Smith-Schuster has been given medication, and he continued to practice with the team.

Helton said he too is feeling under the weather, as are several players besides Smith-Schuster. But he noted Saturday morning that the team had two days to recover before the game.

“Nothing I don’t think will hold anybody up,” he said.

Quick hits


Backup center Khaliel Rodgers, who remains in concussion protocol, has announced his intention to transfer after the season.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand


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