Penn State's young core leads the way in Rose Bowl
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By DAN GREENSPAN
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) As Penn State players celebrated their Rose Bowl win over Utah, there was a belief they can and should be back in 364 days when it hosts a College Football Playoff semifinal.
"I think we're contending for everything, you know what I'm saying? This team's gonna take this to the next level, man, and just continue to keep getting better," defensive end Nick Tarburton said.
Tarburton won't be a part of the 2023 Nittany Lions, having previously announced he will enter the NFL Draft, but a dominant 35-21 win driven by the team's younger players showed the potential behind that confidence.
Freshmen running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen capped off their impressive first seasons by combining for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.
The first score, a 5-yard run by Singleton late in the first quarter, came from a decidedly old-school formation. Singleton, tight end Brenton Strange and Allen were all lined up in the backfield of a Wing T formation, with one freshman tailback helping clear the way for the other.
"It's personnel-driven, and those tailbacks have to be unselfish depending on which way it goes," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "One's gotta block, and one's carrying, and we don't know exactly how it's gonna unfold until we line up."
Singleton, who crossed the 1,000-yard mark for the campaign, and Allen declined to speak with the media in the locker room afterwards.
Instead, a fellow freshman in quarterback Drew Allar was there to praise their impact in finishing with an 11-2 record.
"When you have a great running game like we do, great backs and a great O-line like we do, it just really helps everything for the whole offense," Allar said. "I mean, you can set up different types of play-action shots. It really helps your pass game because D-line just can't rush. They have to respect the run, they can't just avoid their gaps. So it helps everything out."
Allar didn't have a similar impact, with his lone pass falling incomplete and taking a knee to finish off the win. But there was a symbolic passing of the torch when Allar replaced sixth-year senior Sean Clifford with 2:30 remaining.
Clifford closed his college career with arguably his best performance in a big game, but he struggled in losses to Michigan and Ohio State that kept Penn State from playing for the Big Ten title or reaching the CFP this season.
How Allar performs, provided he wins the job as expected, could be the difference in helping the Nittany Lions take the next step. He isn't looking that far ahead.
"Our coaches preach to us that we have to stay in the present because if we're not staying in the present we're gonna miss things and we're not gonna be prepared for the future," he said. "So we all have a present mind about everything. We're just kind of soaking all this in right now."
There were others that joined Singleton and Allen in impressing.
Sophomore cornerback Kalen King had an interception to end Utah's first drive into Penn State's territory, and sophomore wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith had an 88-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the fourth quarter that put the score out of reach.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz expects the Nittany Lions' third win in a New Year's Six bowl in the past six seasons will serve as a springboard into a bright future.
"I think the standard of what we expect next year is well defined," he said. "And I say once you taste something like this, it's hard to go back, so I expect to see that in how we work when they come back for the offseason program."
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Updated January 3, 2023