Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- He's been alive 82 years, so Penn State coach Joe Paterno doesn't always lean on coaching clichés.
So it shouldn't be too surprising that he basically admitted he thought the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi was over at halftime with USC holding a 31-7 lead.
"I thought it had gotten away from us," Paterno said. "Until they got to 31, the last touchdown, I thought we had a shot at it."
USC had outgained Penn State 341 yards to 177 at the break and was dominating on both sides of the ball. The Trojans were 6 of 8 on third down conversions, while Penn State was just 1 of 5.
The Nittany Lions rallied furiously with 17 points in the fourth quarter as, to use Pete Carroll's term, the Trojans "curled up," but the deficit was too large to spare them from suffering the Big Ten's fifth consecutive defeat in a BCS game by 14 points or more.
The Big Ten entered the game with the worst bowl winning percentage among major conferences over the last 6 seasons (.368). The conference is 1-5 so far this bowl season with Ohio State playing Texas in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.
Penn State was much better in the second half, even with running back Evan Royster out with a knee injury. The Nittany Lions outgained the Trojans 233 yards to 133 in the second half and brought their devout fans to their feet in the final minutes as they imagined a miracle comeback.
"I think coach said it best in the [post-game] locker room," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "We just got going a little too late. And, you know, we were doing some things that we haven't been doing all season."
Like penalties. While digging the first-half deficit, Penn State, the nation's third-least penalized team, was flagged seven times for 45 yards. One offsides penalty negated a fumble from USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, and the Trojans went on to drive 86 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Penn State's touted defense was overmatched in the secondary by USC's passing attack and athleticism on the perimeter. Mark Sanchez and company picked the Nittany Lions apart.
"I thought our secondary was a little bit tentative," Paterno said. "I don't think we played particularly well in the secondary."
But, in the second half, the Penn State offense made USC's top-ranked defense look average.
USC has allowed only 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, fewest in the nation. Penn State produced four plays over 20 yards.
"They were good," safety Taylor Mays said. "They didn't back down at all."
It just was too little, too late.