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It's a shootout in "The Granddaddy of Them All."
No. 9 Southern California leads No. 5 Penn State 27-21 at halftime of the Rose Bowl on Monday afternoon in The Golden State.
Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold has been stellar, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns, while receiver Chris Godwin is the first-half MVP for Penn State. The junior has eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown at the break.
In the Rose Bowl's 103-year history, the longstanding college football establishment might not have experienced a weirder start.
Penn State won the opening toss and elected to receive, but disaster nearly struck when an odd bounce on USC's kickoff forced Miles Sanders to fall on the ball at the Nittany Lions' own 3-yard line.
That nightmare start could only be delayed one play, though. From his own end zone, Trace McSorley aired it out down the USC sideline, but DeAndre Thompkins, who's filling in for the suspended Saeed Blacknall, cut his route short and no one was downfield to catch the heave other than Trojan defensive back Iman Marshall.
The Nittany Lion defense didn't let the obvious miscommunication hurt, holding USC to a three-and-out and forcing a 51-yard field goal attempt, which was missed wide right by Matt Boermeester.
Penn State caught a break — until it turned it over again. Saquon Barkley broke loose for a couple first-down runs, and the Nittany Lions crossed into USC territory.
However, McSorley's second pass of the afternoon should've been caught by Thompkins, but went off the redshirt sophomore's hands and landed on a platter for Jim Thorpe Award winner Adoree' Jackson.
Jackson returned the pick out to near midfield where Darnold, while jittery on the Trojans' first series, put it together. He connected with Juju Smith-Schuster for 25 yards on a 3rd-and-10 and a couple plays later hit Deontay Burnett over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown.
Boermeester's extra point gave USC a 7-0 advantage with 10:31 remaining in the first quarter.
After a prompt three-and-out, the Trojans tacked on three more points. Darnold, using his legs to escape the pocket and find second and third options down the field, marched USC to Penn State's 4-yard line, but the Nittany Lions held. Brandon Bell, Marcus Allen and the front-four, which continuously pressured Darnold throughout the first quarter without much to show for it, forced an incompletion.
Boermeester connected on a 22-yard field goal, putting USC up 10-0 with 4:42 left in the opening period.
Penn State gained its footing offensively in the second quarter.
With 13 and 14-yard completions to Godwin, McSorley got the unit moving, and then Barkley turned it on. The sophomore back, two plays removed from a 16-yard reception, gutted the USC defense with a 24-yard rush up the middle on 3rd-and-6 for Penn State's first score.
Connor McGovern and Brian Gaia parted the USC front-four, and Barkley's incisive running was good enough, along with Tyler Davis' extra point, to cut the Trojans' advantage to 13-7 with 11:44 to go in the second quarter.
USC did respond, though. A 32-yard completion to Burnett on the Trojans' first play of the ensuing drive later set up a 3-yard toss to Burnett for USC's second touchdown of the day.
USC went up 20-7 with 10:15 left until halftime, but the Nittany Lions bounced back. A 29-yard hookup between McSorley and Godwin foreshadowed a beautiful 30-yard heave to the end zone. Godwin hauled it in and, after review, it was determined the junior wideout got at least a foot down with control of the ball.
Davis' extra point made it 20-14, but the first half shootout continued as USC scored a touchdown in a little more than two minutes of game time. A 36-yard throw from Darnold to Smith-Schuster followed closely by a Jackson 24-yard screen set up the Trojans for a quick, three-yard throw to Rogers in the end zone.
USC led 27-14 with 6:16 until the teams went to the locker room.
But Penn State added points before the second quarter was up. A 13-play, 75-yard drive, highlighted by a one-handed catch by Godwin and a crucial facemask penalty on a McSorley run, finished with a mind-bogglingly nimble catch by 6-foot-6 tight end Mike Gesicki.
Gesicki's 11-yard snare with 0:54 left in the first half, with Davis' kick, sliced USC's advantage to 27-21.
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