This is an advanced stats look at the Rose Bowl. Anything highlighted in gold is in favor of USC, anything highlight in blue is in favor of Penn State, and anything highlighted in green is what should be a key match-up in this game that could possibly swing the advantage for either team. All numbers are the respective rankings for each team in each category using S&P+ measures as generated by footballstudyhall.com.
In looking at the 5 factors, there are pretty obvious strengths and weaknesses: efficiency for both USC offensively and defensively and creating explosive plays for the Penn State defense. Something Penn State excels in that could test USC is that while teams might get inside of the Nittany Lions' 40-yard line, that doesn't always guarantee points. The Trojans must execute well on Penn State's side of the field to excel in this game. On the defensive side, Penn State will surely break off a few big plays given not only USC's struggles there defensively, but also how Penn State seems to create them with ease.
For all Saquon Barkley's talents, it's kind of shocking the Nittany Lions aren't better at running the ball. Clancy Pendergast's defensive unit should have no issue shutting down the Penn State rushing attack. As for the USC run game, it's a little bit closer of a match-up. If the USC offensive line can beat the Penn State defensive line just enough, that might allow running back Ronald Jones II to spring a few plays. However, the Nittany Lions' defense will surely be looking to make the USC offense one-dimensional and try to force quarterback Sam Darnold to win it.
The passing game match-up is pretty even as it shows both teams' approaches towards the pass game, USC is content with getting chunk plays and maintaining an efficient approach while Penn State really leans on the pass to generate explosive plays. The Trojans should be successful in generating those chunk plays as well as limiting them, and Penn State will look to create explosive plays through the pass game and USC should struggle to generate any of their own. The overall Penn State passing offense vs. USC's pass defense could be another game-swinging aspect of the game. Newly minted Thorpe award winner Adoree' Jackson and company should have their hands full with a potent passing attack led by signal-caller Trace McSorley. Penn State is a bit better at getting pressure on the quarterback than the Trojans. It will be interesting to see If the Penn State pass rush can rattle Darnold, albeit it's a thing opposing defenses have struggled to do.
The pattern of explosive plays for Penn State and efficiency for the Trojans also carries over to both Standard and Passing Downs as well. Both offenses and defenses don't flinch in Standard Downs; that will be another critical match-up. What's interesting about both teams though is that neither quarterback or offense seems to struggle in downs and distances that typically aren't in the offense's favor: These teams are truly evenly matched. One thing to keep in mind: Since USC is so good at being efficient on passing downs on offense and limiting efficiency on passing downs on defense, it could result in Penn State pressing and trying to generate big plays to compensate. If the USC pass defense can eliminate Penn State's efficiency on Passing Downs and force them to be reliant on explosive plays -- which is a high-risk approach -- it could spell trouble for the Nittany Lions.
Looking at quarterly performance match-ups, USC is a monster in the first half while Penn State is equally monstrous in the second. The big "if" here is the third quarter as this could potentially be the biggest quarter in the game. The numbers suggest the Trojans should be able to generate a lead in the first half but whether they can hold onto or even grow that lead in the third quarter will be crucial in deciding this game.
S&P+ suggests the Trojans are the favorite in this game by 3.7 points and Vegas is nearly doubling that as they have USC as 7-point favorites. Given the statistical outlook, that seems to fit although the Trojans should in no way take a team as hot as they are lightly on January 2.
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Saman Djabbari graduated from USC in 2008 and is a weekly contributor to uscfootball.com and co-host of the Traveler Hates Thursdays' podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @samandjabbari.