Pasadena, Calif. - The Rose Bowl, pitting No. 8 Penn State against No. 5 USC, was supposed to be tight contest with two tremendous defenses exchanging body blows for 60 minutes. Instead, it was a Midwesterner's Hollywood story gone wrong for Penn State, as the Trojans piled on the points in the second quarter en route to a 38-24 victory.
The most points Joe Paterno's defense gave up all season was 24 during a win against Illinois and a loss to Iowa. The Trojans topped that mark by halftime, with Mark Sanchez accounting for 276 yards passing, three touchdown through the air and one on the ground.
"Honestly, all of a sudden, when we go, we go and we start firing on all cylinders," Pete Carroll said. "We kept getting the ball back and the guys kept taking advantage of it."
It would be hard to imagine a more sizzling performance for the junior quarterback, as Mark Sanchez finished the game as one of the most prolific passers in Rose Bowl history.
"I felt good going into halftime but hats off to a great Penn State team," Sanchez said. "They were on us the whole game and didn't quit."
Sanchez went 28-of-35 for 413 yards and five total touchdowns. In the history of the Rose Bowl he is second in yardage to Oregon's Danny O'Neil (456 yards in 1995), while his four passing touchdowns and his .800 completion percentage tied records.
Sanchez's favorite target was sophomore wide out Damian Williams, who amassed 127 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. By the final horn, Williams tallied 10 grabs for 162 yards, both numbers tying him for 7th all-time at the Rose Bowl.
Behind Sanchez, the Trojans scored 24 unanswered points in the 2nd quarter against the Nittany Lions.
USC held a 31-7 lead going into the final frame until Daryll Clark's 2-yard pass to Derrick Williams in the made it 31-14 and began to open up the floodgates.
The game still appeared to be in hand, but that didn't stop the Lions from fighting back. After Sanchez answered Clark's TD with a 45-yard strike to Ronald Johnson, Penn State mounted a pair of scoring drives, cutting the lead to 38-24.
The Lions threatened to cut the lead even further, but a pair of late interceptions by Will Harris and Cary Harris secured the victory.
"You've got to hand it to them but we stopped them, our defense came through one more time just like they've done all year," Carroll said. "It was a great opportunity for us to have this big-time match up against Penn State and get a win. I'm very thrilled about it."
The scoreboard explosion made for a perfect sendoff for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who departs Troy to take over the head-coaching duties at Washington.
"Offensively, Coach Sarkisian, Coach Pat Ruel, Yogi Roth, it was really a testament to their game plan to our team staying focused," Sanchez said. "Buying into the preparation and bringing it on game day."
Coming into the game, most of the chatter had to do with the two top-five defenses clashing in Pasadena.
While the score crept up a little higher than they would have liked, the Trojan senior defenders were still elated the way their unit helping to secure the victory.
"It's a great win tonight, and Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga are just ridiculous," defensive MVP Kaluka Maiava. "Those guys are beasts. It's crazy that we all came in together, and I can't ask for anything more."
Cushing led the time with 7 total tackles and a half a sack while Maualuga added 6 tackles and a pass breakup.
Maiava had 4 stops, broke up a pass and served as a general disruptor for the Penn State offense.
But Thursday was all about the offense for once, and Maiava and his teammates didn't mind sharing the spotlight.
"We like to," he said. "It's all around the team, offense, special teams, defense, we fly around and make plays, and that's why we feel we're the best and can play with anybody."
With such a tremendous performance, much of the post game talk focused on Sanchez possibly departing early for the NFL.
"I haven't thought about it," Sanchez said. "I'm going to celebrate this victory first and worry about it somewhere down the line.
"I'm excited that I have a great coach to talk about it with. He's the one who has brought up everything to me, and he'll give me all the right information. But it's going to be hard to say goodbye to this place.
"I don't think I can do it."
After the game Trojan fans made their thoughts known, chanting "One more year, one more year" as Sanchez was directing the Trojan Marching Band.
"That feeling on the steps, the ladder, that is something special," he said. "I'll remember that forever.
"Really, they're chanting for the whole team, because I obviously can't do it alone. I'm so happy right now. This is unbelievable."