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Rose Bowl Names to Know: Utah Offense

There are several key Utes playmakers Penn State must shut down to leave Pasadena victorious

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Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Keyvone Lee (24) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially Rose Bowl day. As we count the hours to kickoff, it’s time to dive deeper into Penn State’s opponent: the No. 8 Utah Utes.

Utah’s Offensive Outlook for the Rose Bowl

The Utes come into this game with one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Utah is top ten in scoring (40 PPG) and rushing (220 YPG). Although their passing game has been less prolific, it’s still one of the more efficient aerial attacks in the nation (23rd). 

Most importantly, Utah plays a clean style of football. The Utes rarely give up negative plays, ranking in the top ten in both sacks and tackles for loss allowed. It will be challenging to get the Utah offense off the field, as it converts nearly half of its 3rd downs and has a top-25 turnover margin on the year. 

The Utes have suffered significant losses on this side of the ball since they last took the field. Utah’s leading pass catcher, tight end Dalton Kincaid, has opted not to play due to injury. He is joined by Tavion Thomas, the Utes’ leading rusher, who declared for the NFL Draft.  

Given these losses and that they play on the other side of the country, the names of Utah’s remaining playmakers may not be front of mind for many Nittany Lions fans. However, there are still several players that Penn State fans should know before Monday’s Rose Bowl showdown. 

Cam Rising

It helps that Utah’s most well-known player is still expected to suit up for the Rose Bowl. Cam Rising has been one of the better quarterbacks in the PAC-12 all season. Rising’s 66% completion percentage and 25 touchdown passes rank 4th in the conference among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts this year. Rising also possesses good ball security, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio approaching 4:1. 

Most of Rising’s passing yards come across the middle of the field, which is concerning. According to PFF, over a third of Rising’s 2,900 yards have come on routes over the middle and short of the first down marker. We’ve seen Penn State’s linebackers struggle with crossing routes, especially against Purdue and Ohio State. 

However, there is an opportunity if Penn State can beat the stout Utah pass protection. Rising’s PFF passer rating drops by 37 points when he is under pressure this season. The Nittany Lions have been phenomenal in disrupting quarterbacks all year long. If Penn State can force Rising into making quick decisions, then it stands a much better chance of slowing down the Utes on offense. 

Ja’Quinden Jackson

With Tavion Thomas out, Utah will need to find other outlets for his production in the running game. Although Micah Bernard may get the starter’s share of reps, Ja’Quinden Jackson presents a significant threat. 

Jackson has seen his share of carries increase dramatically in Utah’s last five games. A former quarterback, Jackson has rushed for 25 fewer yards than Bernard on the year but on 30 fewer attempts. Jackson’s 6.9 yards per rush is the best among Utes with at least 50 carries. He averages nearly four yards after contact, one of the better rates Penn State has seen all year. 

Even without Thomas, Utah will still bring one of the most dangerous running games in the nation to Pasadena. But with rare exceptions, the Nittany Lions have been strong against the run in 2022. It will be interesting to see how Manny Diaz attacks the Utes after having a month to prepare for this one. 

Money Parks

Like Jackson, Money Parks has done more with less as part of the Utah passing game this year, racking up over 400 yards on only 25 receptions. Parks is Utah’s deep-threat receiver – he averages over 16 yards per reception and has primarily been targeted beyond the chains. On 10 receptions of 10 yards or more, Parks has 276 yards and both of his touchdowns this year. 

Although Penn State’s secondary has been a strength all year, this will be one of the most significant challenges since the loss of Joey Porter, Jr. The Nittany Lions gave up several deep plays to Michigan State but otherwise were solid the last time out. I’ll be curious if Utah favors throwing to Johnny Dixon instead of Kalen King in Porter’s absence. While Utah’s passing attack is respectable, Penn State has faced better this season. I would expect the Nittany Lions to have the advantage here next week. 

Team stats – NCAA. Player stats – PFF.

Matt is a Co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

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