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Right on the Mark

Trojans win third straight Rose Bowl behind Sanchez’s five touchdowns

Posted: January 1, 2009 7:15 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
PASADENA - The halcyon days of USC quarterbacks are now.

Under head coach Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart and John David Booty had their glory games under the Pasadena sun.

Now Mark Sanchez joins them.

Sanchez threw for 412 yards and four touchdowns Thursday to lead No. 5 USC to a 38-24 victory over No. 8 Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

"Mark had a big night. He's some kind of football player. His numbers after one season (as USC's starting quarterback) are right there (with Leinart and Booty)," Carroll said. "There's no doubt that he's capable of being the best player in America."

Sanchez backed up that statement by picking apart the Nittany Lions' secondary.

The Rose Bowl's Offensive Player of the Game was an efficient 28-of-35 and didn't turn the ball over once.

"Coach Sark (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) told me, ‘You're going to prepare so well that you're going to feel free,'" Sanchez said.

The Trojans (12-1) broke free early and threatened to run away with the game in the first half.

Sanchez tossed for 276 yards and three passing touchdowns in the first half.

The junior signal caller also added a rushing touchdown early to pace the Trojans to a 31-7 halftime lead.

Penn State (11-2) made things interesting late by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.

But Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark threw an interception to Trojans safety Will Harris with 2:51 to play, then threw another one to cornerback Cary Harris as time expired.

The killer throughout the game for the Nittany Lions was mistakes.

Penn State was shanghaied by penalties early on.

Sophomore All-American defensive end Aaron Maybin blindsided Sanchez and forced a fumble midway through the first quarter, giving the ball to the Nittany Lions. But he was flagged for jumping offsides, giving the Trojans the ball back.

Six plays later, Sanchez tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams for the early 7-0 USC lead.

Later, a 15-yard Penn State facemask was followed by a 20-yard dump and run from Sanchez to C.J. Gable to give the Trojans a 31-7 advantage going into halftime.

"When you play a team as good as Southern Cal, you obviously can't make those kinds of mistakes," said Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. "We knew that coming into the ballgame, and we decided we don't turn the ball over, protect the ball, make sure we cover kicks and whatever you do, don't make stupid penalties. In the first half, we just did dumb things we haven't done all year."

Penn State was the least penalized team in the Big Ten this year.

The Nittany Lions were flagged nine times for 72 yards Thursday.

Early on, though, Penn State appeared to hang with USC.

The Nittany Lions answered the Trojans' first score by setting up a touchdown with the passing game.

Passes of 15 and 28 yards from Clark brought the Nittany Lions inside the USC 10-yard line.

Clark finished off the nine-play, 80-yard drive when he stepped back in the pocket, then found a gap and pushed forward into the end zone for a 9-yard score, knotting the game up at 7-7 with four seconds to play in the opening quarter.

But the definitive drive for Sanchez was the ensuing one.

Sanchez was 4-of-4 on the drive for 76 yards, including back-to-back completions of 26 yards each.

He would later score on a 6-yard run to give the Trojans a 14-7 second-quarter lead.

After a USC field goal with seven minutes to play in the half, USC marched on Penn State territory again. Sanchez stood in on a third-and-13 and took a hit from Penn State linebacker Josh Hull, but completed a 17-yard pass to Damian Williams, keeping the drive alive.

On the next play, Sanchez found Ronald Johnson in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to put USC up 24-7.

Sanchez said Sarkisian noted before the game that the Trojans would have speed on the outside and thus exploited Penn State's secondary.

Williams was the biggest beneficiary.

He caught 10 balls for 162 yards and the touchdown.

After a 2-yard score from Clark to Derrick Williams early in the fourth, Sanchez threw a 45-yard score to Johnson to give USC a 38-14 lead.

Sanchez's coming-out party will lead the Trojans into 2009.

Carroll said he let the defense lead the way for most of the 2008 season because there was so much experience on that side of the ball.

Thus, the USC offense took some hits for being too inconsistent.

The Trojans are graduating possibly the finest linebacking corps in the country in Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game Kaluka Maiava.

It will be the USC offense that will lead in 2009, losing only key receiver Patrick Turner to graduation.

"They're going to be scary," Cushing said of the future USC offense.


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