PASADENA, Calif. - Southern California’s offense went high-powered in the Rose Bowl, a reminder of how much the Trojans could miss Steve Sarkisian when he’s running Pac-10 rival Washington’s program next season.
USC’s 38-24 victory over No. 6 Penn State on Thursday marked the end of Sarkisian’s career as an assistant, including seven seasons with the Trojans under coach Pete Carroll, the last two as offensive coordinator.
Sarkisian is now free to devote his full attention to reviving a Washington program that went 0-12 this season. He got the job with the Huskies on Dec. 6, but wanted to call plays for USC one more time in the Rose Bowl.
“It’s been a great run,” Sarkisian said on the field as the USC band blared in front of him. “I’m going to cherish this one for awhile.”
Under Sarkisian, the fifth-ranked Trojans (12-1) opened up against the Nittany Lions (11-2) in a game that had been expected to be low scoring because of both teams’ defensive prowess.
“We went in with the mindset of, ’Let’s just go for it and see what happens,”’ he said.
USC’s offense came into its fourth consecutive Rose Bowl appearance averaging 37.5 points. The Trojans scored nearly that many by halftime to lead 31-7.
Mark Sanchez hit Ronald Johnson and C.J. Cable with touchdown passes 48 seconds apart in the second quarter. That sent USC’s players jumping up and down in a jubilant huddle in front of Penn State’s band that was waiting to take the field at halftime.
“We’re just celebrating with our team and having fun,” wide receiver Damian Williams said.
The Trojans had taken a more conservative offensive approach this season compared to recent years, relying on a senior-laden defense that had allowed just 7.8 points per game.
That went out the window Thursday.
Sanchez aired it out in the fourth quarter, hitting Johnson again with a 45-yard touchdown pass that extended USC’s lead to 38-14. Sanchez finished 28-of-35 for 413 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in one of the best Rose Bowl performances in the game’s 95-year history.
“Offensively, we just wanted to show people that we wanted to be at the top,” Williams said, citing the acclaim that the offenses of Texas and Oklahoma enjoy. “We have to elevate our game to their level.”
The Trojans ended the season on a 10-game winning streak during which they gave up just 73 points, with three shutouts.
“Our kids played really well,” Sarkisian said. “They had a great understanding of what they were getting.”
Washington fans tuning in for the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup surely liked what they saw, knowing Sarkisian is headed their way.
“He’s going to be a big part that we’re going to miss,” Gable said.
Asked what he’s going to take from his years with USC, Sarkisian smiled and said, “You got to recruit really well.”
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No. 5 USC 38, No. 6 Penn State 24