Penn State Football: 3 Nittany Lions to Watch in the Rose Bowl

Oct 3, 2015; Madison, WI, USA; Rose Bowl signage in front of luxury boxes at Camp Randall Stadium during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 3, 2015; Madison, WI, USA; Rose Bowl signage in front of luxury boxes at Camp Randall Stadium during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Who will play a key role for the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl?

It’s been about a month since Penn State was last on the field. Up next is a date with the USC Trojans in the famous Rose Bowl. The Nittany Lions are underdogs in the contest, but that doesn’t mean that an upset is impossible.

Penn State has shone brightly in the role of underdog this season. After staring the year 2-2, the Nittany Lions turned a corner and reeled off nine straight wins, culminating in a victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.

Getting players back healthy and a rapidly improved defense have helped the Nittany Lions during their win streak. Also, a new-look special teams has found a lot of success. Perhaps the biggest reason for the quick turnaround of the program has been the play of the offense.

One of the worst units in all of FBS last year, the Nittany Lions, under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, turned into a team capable of racking up points and yards in a hurry.

Penn State now faces a great challenge in the Rose Bowl against USC. The Nittany Lions, fresh off a snub from the College Football Playoff, will be looking to prove that they belong back with the elite of college football.

Which players will need to play key roles against the Trojans? Read on to see VBR’s picks for Nittany Lions to watch in the Rose Bowl.

Dec 3, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) drops back to pass against the Wisconsin Badgers in the first half during the Big Ten Championship college football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

QB Trace McSorley

Quarterback Trace McSorley has been the catalyst of the offense in recent weeks and will look to keep his good play going in the Rose Bowl. The last time McSorley took the field he led the Nittany Lions to a comeback victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. He threw for a game-record 384 yards and four touchdowns.

McSorley finished the regular season with 25 total touchdowns, including four in each of his last two games.

The signal-caller has grown and developed throughout the season and has a clear command of Joe Moorhead’s up-tempo offense. McSorley has thrown for 3,360 yards and has been one of the biggest reasons for Penn State’s success.

The USC defense ranks 65th in passing yards allowed, so McSorley could be in store for a good day through the air.

If Penn State hopes to leave Pasadena with a victory, McSorley and the passing attack is going to have to play a big role.

Nov 5, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions safety Marcus Allen (2) gestures to the crowd during the third quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

S Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen has already cemented his place in Penn State football lure. His blocked field goal against Ohio State will go down as one of the most important plays in Penn State history. Also, he was in on the big fourth-down stop of Wisconsin’s Corey Clement to seal the win in the Big Ten Championship.

The junior safety leads the team with 101 total tackles, including the 22 he recorded in the win over Minnesota. Allen has a knack for being around the football and can deliver the big hit. He has missed some tackles this year while going for the big play, but that has gotten better recently.

Allen is the last line of defense for the Nittany Lions at the safety position and could find himself being very busy against a tough USC offense.

Penn State’s defense will be tested by the Trojans in this one. Allen and his teammates will need to be in top form in order to come out victorious.

Dec 3, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Mike Gesicki (88) catches a pass against Wisconsin Badgers safety Leo Musso (19) during the Big Ten Championship college football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

TE Mike Gesicki

After struggling through his first two seasons in Happy Valley, tight end Mike Gesicki really turned a corner in 2016. He developed into a big-time target for quarterback Trace McSorley and creates a mismatch with most who try to cover him.

Gesicki is second on the team with 47 receptions, 668 yards, and four touchdowns. He enters the Rose Bowl with a touchdown in each of the last two games. Both scores came on leaping grabs in the end zone.

Having a big, reliable tight end to target in the passing attack is a key weapon for any offense. Gesicki seems to have formed a great relationship with McSorley and both have thrived this season.

With opposing defenses paying attention to the likes of Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, and DaeSean Hamilton Gesicki can become a forgotten piece of the puzzle. As soon at that happens, thats when he steps up and makes defenses pay.

Look for Gesicki to be used heavily once again this week and don’t be surprised if he finds the end zone for the third straight game.

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