Plenty of differences, similarities between Utah, Penn State as they clash in Rose Bowl
The Nittany Lions represent one of the blue-blood programs in college football. Penn State is No. 8 all-time in wins with 919 victories. The Utes rank No. 46 with 701 wins.
LOS ANGELES — In more than a century of college football, Utah and Penn State have never crossed paths on the football field.
Looking at the big picture, the Nittany Lions represent one of the blue-blood programs in the sport. Penn State is No. 8 all-time in wins with 919 victories. The Utes rank No. 46 with 701 wins.
The Nittany Lions have captured a pair of national championships (1982 and 1986) and boast a Heisman Trophy winner (John Cappelletti in 1973).
“They’re steeped in tradition,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Coach (Joe Paterno) did a great job with the team. They have a lot of history. It’s really an honor to play them.”
Penn State jumped from independence to the Big Ten in 1990.
Utah, meanwhile, joined the Pac-12 in 2011 and it has claimed back-to-back Pac-12 titles.
When the two programs collide Monday (3 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the 109th edition of the Rose Bowl, it will mark the No. 11 Nittany Lions’ fifth appearance in the Granddaddy of Them All while the No. 8 Utes will be playing in the game for the second consecutive year.
While Utah is on the verge of playing in its fourth New Year’s Six bowl game — with appearances in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, 2009 Sugar Bowl and 2022 Rose Bowl — Penn State has appeared in multiple Fiesta Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Orange Bowls, Cotton Bowls and Sugar Bowls, dating back decades.
Penn State has earned 25 double-digit victory seasons while Utah has 10.
Clearly, there are differences between the two programs.
But when it comes to approach, and style, these current Utah and Penn State teams have quite a bit in common. They’re strikingly similar.
For starters, both teams have gritty, experienced quarterbacks — the Nittany Lions’ Sean Clifford and the Utes’ Cam Rising.
“I think it encapsulates, really, the entire match-up. I think there’s a lot of similarities to the Utah football program,” said Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. “When I watch Penn State on defense, when I see them on offense, I see a lot of similarities in the approach. I think these are very two like-minded programs that are going to go at it here in the Rose Bowl. Starting with the quarterback position, two veteran guys that have been around.”
Rose Bowl Game
No. 8 Utah (10-3) vs. No. 11 Penn State (10-2)
Monday, 3 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700
Both teams stake their respective reputations on playing hard-nosed defense and running the football.
“It’s a physical team that we’re playing. They’re well-coached. They’re very committed to the run game with two freshman backs,” said Whittingham. “They’re very balanced with those two guys getting the majority of the carries. A veteran quarterback and they play tough defense. So there’s a lot of similarities between the two teams.”
“I think there’s a ton of similarities in terms of the way we’re built on offense, defense and special teams, trying to play complementary football,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “They’ve been pretty strong over coach Whittingham’s career on the defensive side of the ball. It’s what they’ve hung their hat on. I would say we’ve been built the same way. Here are teams with veteran quarterbacks and have had better years offensively. It’s going to be a challenge. I think it should be a great game. I think we match up really well against each other.”
Statistically, both teams are almost identical.
While Utah ranks No. 8 nationally in scoring offense (40.0 ppg) and No. 25 in scoring defense (20.4 ppg), Penn State ranks No. 19 in scoring offense (35.8 ppg) and No. 9 in scoring defense (18.0).
“A lot of the coaches mentioned this as soon as we found out we were playing Penn State — we’re going to be playing a tough, physical team, just like us,” said Utah defensive lineman Gabe Reid. “That’s something you can expect to see on Monday. It’s going to be a good game and we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a dogfight and that’s what you live for when you play football.”
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley agreed that the two teams are “fairly similar” to each other.
“They pride themselves in running the ball. The quarterback is a smart, savvy football player that understands coverages, and they are a physical football team. Offensive line is very well-coached. The wide receivers, you can tell they block. So you can tell a team that plays physical and is coached the right way,” Scalley said.
“It’s going to be a great match-up. I think both teams are fairly even in the match-up, and it’s going to be a physical battle, and we’re excited for it. I look across at that film and what I see is a well-coached team, a team that prides themselves in physicality, running the football, a smart quarterback that understands coverages and a coaching staff that pays attention to the details. Much respect for Penn State and what they do.”
Running back Micah Bernard can see the similarities in terms of never giving up in the face of adversity.
“They’re very physical, they’re tough and they’re not going to stop playing. Guess what? That’s us. That’s what we do,” he said. “We don’t stop playing. You saw that in the (Pac-12) championship game. Everybody thought we were out of it. We don’t stop playing. You think you’re going to win? You think you have it in the bag? I’m sorry. You don’t.”
The Nittany Lions remind Ute tight end Thomas Yassmin of his team.
“We’re very similar. They’re very physical and strong up front. They’ve got a great secondary. We have to match that,” he said. “They hustle to the ball on every play. They’re very physical and have a very high work ethic. They’re a phenomenal team.”
On Monday, in a showdown between two physical teams, which one will have the upper hand?
“We’re two of the same teams built on the same philosophies. They’re a very physical defense. They play a lot like how we are. They put man-on-man. You’ve got to have our best athletes beat their best athletes. That’s what I see in their defense,” said Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele.
“They have a ton of great players and a lot of good leadership on that team. It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s what you want, what you expect from the Rose Bowl Game. It’s two of the best teams playing against each other on a national stage. We’ve just got to make sure and execute the game plan. I feel like whoever is the more physical team on Monday is going to be the one that comes out with the win.”
Utah safety R.J. Hubert is looking forward to his team, his program, playing an opponent like Penn State on a huge stage with so much at stake.
“It’s an amazing team. They’ve won plenty of bowl games and they’ve won national championships. They’re an amazing program. To go up against a program like that will be quite the experience,” he said. “We just have to remember that we can play with teams like this, even though they are such a prestigious program. Our football team has solidified ourselves as one of the more competitive teams in the country.”
Penn State is a blue blood program — and Utah would love to become one.
“The title (blue blood) kind of comes with years of consistency so there’s a lot that we have to establish,” Hubert said. “But I think our program is heading in the right direction in that sense. We need to keep coming to bowl games like this — and win them.”