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What Utah’s defense must deal with when facing Penn State in the Rose Bowl

Nittany Lions coach James Franklin is happy for QB Sean Clifford and all of the seniors who will be playing in the Rose Bowl

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Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford celebrates with wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith after scoring a touchdown.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford celebrates with wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith after scoring a touchdown against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College, Pa. The 24-year-old QB will have experience on his side when the Nittany Lions and Utes meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 2023.

Barry Reeger, Associated Press

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

Penn State senior quarterback Sean Clifford’s six-year career in Happy Valley is set to come to an end at a happy place — the Rose Bowl.

The No. 11 Nittany Lions face No. 8 Utah on Jan. 2. 

Clifford, 24, arrived on campus in 2017 and has experienced his share of ups and downs since. He passed former Penn State QB Trace McSorley in almost every statistical category. But some Nittany Lions fans have blamed him for not winning more games during his career.

Coach James Franklin is happy for Clifford and all of the seniors that will be able to play in the Rose Bowl. 

“(COVID-19) and everything else these guys have experienced throughout their careers, it’s been different,” he said. “Sean’s just a guy that’s really represented our university and our football program the right way on and off the field his entire career. He’s been doing it for a long time. I’m going to check the picture of that Rose Bowl game played 100 years ago and make sure Sean wasn’t in it because he’s been playing football at Penn State for a long time.

“And he’s maximized that entire experience as a student, a student-athlete. He’s going to go on and be a very, very successful businessman after his football career is done. And he’s done it the right way and he’s done it with class. I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him. And I know he’s going to prepare like crazy to go out and play the best he possibly can against a really tough opponent.”

Clifford has completed 210 of 330 passes for 2,543 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. For his career, he’s thrown for 10,382 yards with 84 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. 

Meanwhile, Clifford and the offense have received a big boost this season thanks to a pair of freshmen running backs — Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. 

Singleton has rushed for 941 yards and 10 touchdowns while Allen has run for 830 yards and nine TDs. 

“The balance that we were able to operate with this year on the offensive side of the ball was a big part of our success as a team, offense, defense and special teams, to be able to sustain drives and make big plays,” Franklin said. “It’s unusual to do it as a freshman, let alone two true freshmen. But both of them complemented each other really well. We were able to not only run the ball but it created more explosive plays for us in our play-action pass game as well, mixed with some RPO in there, too.

“It’s been really good. It’s allowed Sean to operate our offense from a run-game perspective in terms of how he (identifies) the front and sets up our blocking schemes and pass protection. It allows us to, in some down-and-distance situations, which are traditional throwing downs, to be able to run the ball a little bit more. I think it’s really helped our offense. It’s helped our quarterback and it’s helped our offensive line. Those guys have been big-time players for us all year long. We’re going to need them at the Rose Bowl, too.”

In case you missed it

After leading the Utes to their second straight Pac-12 championship and fourth South Division title in five years, is it time to start putting Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham in the same league as the legendary coach from down south?

“Let’s face it: Utah’s win over No. 4-ranked USC on a neutral field — a 47-24 drubbing — in the Pac-12 championship game and a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth cement Kyle Whittingham’s bonafides as an elite college football coach,” writes Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson.

Robinson went on to point out, “By now Whittingham’s accomplishments are such that he is approaching the rarefied air occupied by — dare we say it? — the great LaVell Edwards, who ranks 27th among the winningest coaches ever (and all but one of the coaches ahead of him coached longer). Edwards coached much longer than Whittingham, but if you prorate their accomplishments, they are closer than most would imagine.”

Numbers game

13: Where the undefeated Utah women’s basketball team is ranked in the AP Top 25 heading into its Pac-12 opener against Colorado on Wednesday.

27: Points Branden Carlson scored in Utah’s 91-70 thumping of USTA in the Huntsman Center Tuesday night. It was marked a career high for the Utes’ versatile big man.

5: Number of games the Utes men’s basketball team has won by 20 or more points this season.

From the archives

Extra points

  • Still seeking Rose Bowl tickets? Here’s what you need to know (Deseret News)
  • 10 gift ideas for Utah Utes fans (Deseret News)
  • Utah football gets recommitment from Texas 4-star cornerback CJ Blocker (Deseret News)
  • 4-star Skyridge cornerback Smith Snowden commits to Utah (Deseret News)
  • Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III announces future plans (Deseret News)
  • Dalton Kincaid declares for 2023 NFL draft, will miss Rose Bowl (Deseret News)
  • 7 quick impressions from the Red Rocks Preview (Deseret News)
  • Former BYU, current Utah basketball player Gavin Baxter is medically retiring (Deseret News)
  • He’s quiet and raw, but Keba Keita making forceful impact on Runnin’ Utes (KSL.com)
  • Once an underling at Utah, Troy Taylor now Stanford head football coach (Salt Lake Tribune)


You know, a near perfect combination of coaches would have been Leach coaching the offense and Whittingham coaching the defense. If either one has a weakness, it was the opposite side of the ball. Coach Leach had great offenses but his teams usually fell short on defense. Coach Whittingham has the opposite problem, although his offenses have improved quite a bit in the last 2 years. I guess we’ll never see it but it’s okay to imagine.

— CA. reader

This is how you build your brand. Sports pundits are well aware of Coach Whittingham and his Utah Utes.

In last year’s Rose Bowl people across the country took notice of the type of football program Utah has and even though it was a loss, taking Ohio State down to the wire made an impression evident by this season’s preseason #7 ranking.

Beating a storied program like Penn State in The Rose Bowl would continue to carry that momentum going forward into the new 12-team CFP era.

It should be another great Rose Bowl but whether Utah comes out the victor or with another disappointing loss, the Utes are on the cusp of, especially in the West, being a National Brand.


Not an unexpected result for the Utes playing a lesser team during finals week. The most unexpected time was when the Utes looked completely lost and UTSA took the lead in the first half with a 16-2 scoring run.

Smith got the ship righted with a ‘half-time discussion’. The walls of the Ute locker room likely has a lot of blistered paint.

— at long last

Up next

Dec. 17 | Noon | Women’s basketball | vs. UC Riverside | @Salt Lake City

Dec. 17 | 4 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. BYU | @Provo

Dec. 20 | 5:30 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Weber State | @Ogden

Dec. 21 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. TCU | @Salt Lake City

Utah Utes women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts calls out from the bench during a game against the BYU Cougars.

Utah Utes women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts calls out from the bench during a game against BYU at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. The Utes topped the Cougars to remain undefeated, then downed Colorado in their Pac-12 opener on Wednesday.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News