Penn State had all the makings of a story-book finish to their 2016 season and a return to prominence after several years of heart-break. Coach James Franklin had led the Nittany Lions to their best record since 2009 and were 15 minutes away from a “fantastic finish” to their season Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down as a result of one measly interception.
The Nittany Lions had finished their season on a nine-game winning streak. There was quite a bit of grumbling among college football pundits when Ohio State, a team that Penn State defeated en route to a Big 10 championship, was selected for the College Football Playoff and the Nittany Lions were not.
They led the USC Trojans by 17 points going into the fourth quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl. Penn State was the best college team in the nation in fourth quarter scoring…they rolled a big fat ZERO in this one! What’s more, Penn State sophomore QB Trace McSorley, who had passed for 254 yards and four touchdowns, was trying to lead his offense into position to kick a game-winning field goal…then came: THE PASS.
McSorley floated a pass toward junior wide out Chris Godwin, who had already hauled in nine passes for 187 yards and two TDS, including a 72-yarder. As McSorley would later be quoted as saying he “…forced the pass, trying to win the game.” Unfortunately for McSorley and the Nittany Lions, he also “telegraphed” the pass and USC Trojan safety Leon McQuay III stepped in and intercepted the pass and returned it to the Penn State 30. Seconds later, USC kicker Matt Boormeester, who had missed two field goal attempts, booted the game winner to cap an improbable comeback.
What was even more heart-breaking for Penn State is that the pass that McSorley threw before the interception was also “telegraphed” and McQuay had his hands on that one but dropped it. So, why would McSorley try the same type of pass and have disastrous results? It is a question that Penn State fans will be asking the entire off-season. Again, refer back to what McSorley was quoted: he forced the pass.
So, while the Nittany Lions will be lamenting what could have been, Trojan fans will be celebrating their nine consecutive wins and looking forward to a 2017 season that could net them 11 or 12 wins.