Rose Bowl notes: USC’s Deontay Burnett improvises for key touchdown

USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett makes a touchdown catch against Penn State in the fourth quarter.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Deontay Burnett was supposed to run a 12-yard dig route with one minute and 27 seconds remaining in a classic of a Rose Bowl game Monday. That meant he was supposed to run 12 yards upfield, then turn on a sharp right angle right along the 15-yard-line chalk.

USC was down seven points, and Burnett, a sophomore who started the season as a backup, was quarterback Sam Darnold’s first read. Which in layman’s terms meant: Don’t mess up.

Burnett knew this. And he heard the play correctly, and knew it called for him to run a 12-yard dig route, and instead he decided not to.

“What Tay’s actually supposed to do is keep a straight line, not necessarily run a post like that,” Darnold said. “But just the player that he is, he made a play, and I saw him.”


Burnett ran his 12 yards, then saw a chance to really make something happen. Instead of turning parallel to the goal line, he ran straight toward it.

“I saw the middle of the field open,” Burnett said.

Burnett found the opening. Darnold saw him. Burnett leaped and made the catch for a 27-yard touchdown that tied the score.

It capped what was the best game of Burnett’s career. A sophomore, he played the first seven games of the season as a reserve, but when Steven Mitchell Jr. tore a ligament in his knee against Arizona, Burnett was thrust into the starting role at slot receiver. He had 458 yards in the regular season with four touchdowns. He never reached 100 yards in a game.

On Monday, he caught 13 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including the first of the game and the last.

The three touchdowns tied a Rose Bowl record with Braylon Edwards of Michigan against Texas in 2005. The 13 receptions was second in Rose Bowl game history, to UCLA’s J.J. Stokes who had 14 in 1994.

It was a heady game, enough to give the former backup confidence that, with the game on the line, he should go for the big play instead of the play that was called.

“I’m happy I threw it to him and not the shallow,” Darnold said. “So yeah, we’ll just leave it at that.”

Jackson injured

USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson slipped attempting to make a cut on a kick return in the third quarter. His right leg got caught beneath him, and he stayed on the ground, then hobbled off with help, putting no pressure on his left leg.

Freshman Jack Jones played at cornerback in his absence, and Burnett returned punts.

Jackson tested out the ankle on the sideline but did not return.

“I was trying to get back in,” Jackson said. “I’m going to fight not matter what.”

Smith ejected

Linebacker Cameron Smith hit Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley late, his helmet colliding into McSorley’s, in the third quarter. It was called targeting, and Smith was ejected from the game. Quinton Powell replaced him in the lineup.

Honoring McKnight

USC running back Ronald Jones II usually wears No. 25, but he ran onto the field during warmups in a No. 4 jersey.

Jones wore it to honor former USC running back Joe McKnight, who was killed last month near New Orleans in what police said was a road-rage induced shooting. The Trojans also wore helmet decals with McKnight’s initials and jersey number.

Marshall out, then back

USC starting cornerback Iman Marshall, who had an interception on the first play from scrimmage, left the game in the first half with vertigo. But he returned in the second half.

A new record

This game’s 101 total points broke the Rose Bowl game scoring record… by the third quarter. The previous high was 83, set by Oregon and Wisconsin in 2012.

Quick hits

It was 55 degrees at kickoff, making it the coldest Rose Bowl since 1974, when it was the same temperature at kickoff for a game between Ohio State and USC. … Kicker Matt Boermeester’s three field goals tied a Rose Bowl record. … USC’s 453 passing yards was the second most in a Rose Bowl game behind Oregon, which had 456 vs. Penn State in 1995. … Penn State’s 28 points in the third quarter was the most scored by a team in any quarter in a Rose Bowl game. … USC won its 25th Rose Bowl game in its 33rd appearance. The 25 wins are the most by any team in any bowl game.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand