(photo credit: Leon Bennett)
by Chris Camello (@Chris_Camello)
PASADENA, CA — Watching kicker Matt Booermeester’s 46-yard game-winning field goal hook just enough to the right was probably the most tense and exhilarating five seconds of the 2016-17 USC season.
That kick represented the culmination of a season that could have gone terribly wrong after a terrible 1-3 start, but ultimately ended with the Trojans celebrating as Rose Bowl champions in a 52-49 win over Penn State.
This shootout will not only go down as one of the best victories in USC football history but as one of the greatest bowl games ever. It simply had it all: a bunch of touchdowns, a comeback from USC, a Penn State team that proved it could be in the semifinal, an ejection, and numerous official reviews.
USC could have had no part of it had head coach Clay Helton not wisely switched quarterbacks after week three. Swapping out the upperclassman Max Browne for redshirt freshman Sam Darnold will go down as the best move Helton made this year.
Darnold lost his first game in Utah, but his talent, maturity, confidence, and potential was clearly present. That loss proved to be the turning point for the Trojans.
They finished the season on an eight-game winning streak with big wins against Colorado, at Washington, and dispatching rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. USC fell short of a Pac-12 South title, but it was still an impressive finish.
The team was clearly better though when Darnold took over. He spread the ball around to his talented receivers, and when a play was broken, Darnold would use his mobility and athleticism to run the ball himself.
His performance in this game will go down as one of the best ever by a freshman. He completed 33 of his 53 passes, 453 yards, and five touchdowns, setting Rose Bowl records.
What’s so impressive about Darnold during this game is even though USC trailed for most of the second half; he never got rattled. He stayed poised and remained confident they could win.
Even when he found Deontay Burnett for that game-tying touchdown with a minute left, Darnold ran to the sideline as if nothing happened.
This win shows how USC football is on its way back. This program has been through so much in recent years with sanctions and failed coaching hires.